Joe Xu's 'The Grass Is Always Greener' Is a Debut of Endless Promise
The anonymity of the name Joe Xu, a 21st century global non de plume par excellence, hides the revelatory gifts of the music inside. The source at first mysterious, the occasional drip of soulful southern U.S. drawl and a languid R&B tempo seemingly hint at its origins. Wrongly so. These are evidence of influences of course, but Xu is a wonderfully gifted Chinese songwriter native to Stockholm, Sweden.
Fresh off a seductively sultry and interrogatory-laden debut album, The Grass Is Always Greener, Xu is a celebration of diverse influences poetically rooted in the well-heeled theme of coming-of-age. Her songs cover all the topics bluntly felt by a 22-year-old finding her value and purpose: unchaining of tradition, shedding self-doubt, bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood. Material ripe for musical exploration and expression, and the album is full of big dreams in hand, chasing recognition, wanting to be heard.
Nordic pop she is not, leaving behind the mathematical tropes for an earnest, honest approach that prefers organic layering, a building technique that allows for Xu to pull back each song’s most raw, emotive purpose ("Love me Love me not" being an obvious example). The deliberateness of the song construction, tension between the lyrics and production is so apt because Xu can handle both tasks equally, both producing and writing her own work.
On most of her debut album, the conventions of songwriting and production work in harmonious parallel, making room for each other, holding every moment accountable with near whispering drums flares and keyboard riffs (that slow bounce, then catch up cadence, so prominent in Beyoncé tracks, is ever present). As debuts go, it generates a sense of endless promise, a woman comfortable wrestling with her inner voice to deliver a beautifully wrought external one. But, what is most auspicious is what hasn't been said, written or produced. The caliber of her early composition only suggests so much more is to come from this budding creative phenom. Let's hope the grass is indeed green on her next work.
P.S. check out the visualizer for "South at the 8th Pt. 1." It's a cinematic beauty, a study in film references with a continuous full panning shot for over a minute-and-a-half. Its visual poise not only says its faire share about Xu's incredible creative mind but also hints at a bundle of ideas yet to be displayed.