The distinct feature of their music is their multi-instrumentalist aspect to every song. This rings true on AJR’s fourth album, OK ORCHESTRA, which debuted on March 26.
It’s theatrical meets indie. Quirky meets catchy. Electric pop meets orchestra. I can’t stop from listening, humming and dancing to AJR on repeat.
There’s one word for this album: exuberant.
The album opens with “OK Overture.” AJR is known for including overtures to their albums. It’s the perfect opening song, featuring a small sample of each individual melody. Even in the first minute, the trumpets can be heard alongside the electronic beat to the songs.
Next is “Bummerland,” which was released as a single in August 2020. This song was on repeat as I started college in the midst of a pandemic. I’m sure most of us thought we were in Bummerland, arriving to college with a mask mandate and slipping anxiety regarding quarantine. AJR acknowledges this with a still cheerful anthem. As the band writes, “Cause you’re only going up from here.”
“3 O’Clock Things” is how your mind works in the middle of the night. Topics like politics, sex, advertisements and college are discussed in a commentary or rant of sorts. AJR makes me smile because of their abaility to play a happy tune even if they are talking about scary things. The song builds up until 3:15, with a major drop that leads into a chorus of brass, strings and electronic bass. The song takes a political stance, claiming that if you’re racist, don’t come to their show. This is one of my favorites.
“My Play” slows down the album, telling the story of a parent’s divorce. It’s a sad song with a nice melody, but it seems out of place in an otherwise jazzed album. It’s a skip for me.
The fifth song, “Joe,” reflects upon asking someone you used to know if they think you’re cool now. It’s a well-blended song with the piano and electronic-pop sounds.
“Adventure Is Out There” is a song seemingly perfect for our pandemic. AJR tells the story through a pair of socks, a quirky move that is not surprising coming from the band.
“Bang!” was released as a single in February of 2020. There is a lot of mixed reviews about this song, and I truly don’t know why. If you could categorize a song as a “coming of age piece,” this song would be it. The chorus is catchy, dynamic and loud. The band pukes over taxes and finds an apartment across from the park. Maybe the lyrics are generic, but the piano and the build-up make up for it.
“The Trick” is a skip. The track opens up with an annoying, wavering voice, and it persists throughout.
The next track makes up for the prior. “Ordinaryish People” features the Blue Man Group, a performance art company, with characters who are painted blue and never speak a word. The impressive percussion is thanks to the group. This song sticks to a theme we will continue to see regarding the middle ground and being just okay.
Hiding your problems is the theme of “Humpty Dumpty,” using another unique story to tell the tale.
“World’s Smallest Violin” is a metaphor for how small problems can be invalidated.
The second to last song, “Way Less Sad” is a slower tempo, with the same themes of feeling a little better, or as the band puts it, feeling less sad.
The album ends with “Christmas in June,” a song about missed events but making it up for with celebrating Christmas in June.
Overall, the album is a hit, although a few skips are blended in. AJR’s unique storytelling and lyrics with the dynamic, theatrical sounds and multiple instruments are here to stay, and with this album, I am way less sad.