Dijon Bucks Structure And Unleashes A Sleeping Beast On The Impactful ‘Absolutely’

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When Dijon first announced the release of his debut LP, Absolutely, it came alongside a performance video of a mysteriously untitled song. In the clip, Dijon is in an antique living room that’s been converted into a makeshift studio space, littered with instruments, samplers, mixing boards, speakers, and a stable of other musicians around the room. Dijon sings empathetically, furiously coursing through the space to show each element of the song coming together. He looks to be on the edge of becoming unhinged, but somehow in total control as he weaves with rhythmic spontaneity through it all, as if he’s feeling every inch of sound being played from a guitar (played by Mk. Gee’s Mike Gordon), drums, piano, bass, and a slide guitar.

At seven minutes long, the improvisational performance (of what was later revealed to be album opener “Big Mike’s”) is nothing like the brief cuts on Absolutely, many of which clock in at under two minutes. But it’s a vast open window into the process of how the album’s songs were created: Off the cuff, in the moment, with a number of collaborators, and nothing like we’d seen from the Los Angeles-based artist in the past.

Before he went solo, Dijon was part of the neo-R&B duo Abhi//Dijon that he formed with producer Abhi Raju while the pair were at the University of Maryland. The group’s wavy beats were more akin to the traditional sense of the British neo-soul movement. Acts like Quadron and Nao come to mind in their structure, but it was that very structure that Dijon needed to break free from artistically. Listening to those tunes from 2015 and 2016, there’s no way to predict that the singer on those quasi chill-hop grooves would unfurl into the man behind the songs of Absolutely.

Even his early solo releases — which included the excellent 2018 one-off track “Skin” and the How Do You Feel About Getting Married? EP in 2020 — don’t exhibit the freedom to lose control that defines Absolutely. Oftentimes, it feels like a sleeping lion was living inside of him and only now has it finally become unleashed. You hear it purr colorfully on “Big Mike’s,” but then it roars emphatically to a peak on “Many Times,” with Dijon’s same physically exerting delivery we see in that first video palpably coming through at different wavelengths throughout the album.

“I think this is the first time you can hear me trying to make music for everybody without it being a concession,” Dijon told NME. Which is a telling assertion and a statement worth pondering, just as much as a number of moments on the album. “Talk Down” opens with Gregory Coleman’s classic amen drum break as Dijon sings “Listening to Gillian Welch. Ooh, I can’t help myself / Look at me, so idle. That ain’t how you smile / Ooh, I like it when you, talk down, turn the radio down.” The track’s repetitive nature is enveloping, but it rings true to the intent of making music based on feel and it’s refreshing.

“Talk Down” and “Many Times” combine for less than five total minutes of music, a pattern that’s common on the album. The vocally-masterful display on “Did You See It?” runs parallel to a slide guitar, handsome keys, and clocks in at less than 75 seconds. But the short length of these tracks makes it seem like these were golden takes that just couldn’t be replicated and had to live that way.

Dijon also told NME that the resulting recordings “came from removing myself from isolation and being willing to ask for help for the first time.” And the spirit of collaboration is strong on Absolutely, with Mk. Gee’s Mike Gordon acting as nothing short of his right-hand man. His guitar is an essential piece to the album and manages to hold Dijon up at both solemn moments like “Rodeo Clown,” and triumphant ones like “Big Mike’s.” On “Noah’s Highlight Reel,” Noah Le Gros delivers a countryside yarn backed by Gordon, with Dijon closing the loop on the experimental vocals delivered by his friend from Wyoming. Guitar effects sound like woodwinds that fade out before “The Dress” mixes in and Dijon smoothly morphs into a yacht rock crooner that might appear on a Drake album. It’s a dynamic and unpredictable display of an artist just letting go.

Absolutely’s falling action comes across a bit disjointed, with the aptly-titled “End Of The Record” and “Credits!” closing it out. But it’s best when perceived as the bones of what you’ve just heard for the past half hour; like walking through a museum’s exhibit and then venturing into smaller rooms to see the charcoal study sketches that inspired the artist’s masterwork on canvas. But in this case, the studies often became the masterworks. What we hear on Absolutely were captured moments in time. And the promise of more on the horizon is in knowing that Dijon is an artist who is now “willing to ask for help” and has ultimately morphed into a newly-spirited creative being. The best might very well be yet to come.

Dijon is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.