[Review] AJR releases their new album ‘OK Orchestra’


Photo courtesy of S-Curve Records

Julia Landy, Editor-in-Chief, Graphics & Design Editor

On Friday, Mar. 27, music group AJR released their newest album, “OK Orchestra.” Since their establishment, AJR  has released four EPs (extended plays) and four albums, with “OK Orchestra” being their fourth.

The indie-pop trio gets its name from the three brothers: Adam, Jack and Ryan Met. AJR originated as a cover band in 2005. The brothers from New York began their music career by performing song covers as children, then went on to record and publish their covers to Youtube on their channel, “AJRBrothers,” years after their Central Park debut. They gained much of their popularity after the release of their second full album, “The Click,” which included popular songs, such as “Weak” and “Burn the House Down.”

Their first album, “Living Room,” was released in 2015. Since then, AJR has released one album every two years with “The Click” being released in 2017, “Neotheater” being released in 2019, and “OK Orchestra” completing the pattern, being released last week, in 2021. 

Their newest album, “Ok Orchestra,” contains 13 tracks, making it the same length as “The Click” and “Living Room,” and one track shorter than “Neotheater,” which is their only album that does not include an overture. The album has a run time of 45 minutes and 48 seconds. 

Prior to the release of the album, AJR released four singles”: “Bang!,” “Bummerland,” “My Play” and “Way Less Sad,” all of which have a music video. In addition to the four singles, “OK Overture” and “World’s Smallest Violin” also have music videos available on the AJR YouTube channel.

Their 2019 album, “Neotheater,” marked the first time AJR experimented with including musical theater aspects into their music. Before that AJR’s music was heavily indie-pop and electropop. Fans heard these musical theater aspects resurface in “OK Orchestra,” which seems to be heavily broadway inspired as well. 

In addition to bringing back musical theater elements, “OK Orchestra” also includes old-timey orchestra melodies such as those heard at the beginning of “OK Overture,” giving it yet another similarity to “Neotheater.” Unlike “Neotheater,” every track in “OK Orchestra” is upbeat. Even the songs that deal with sadder, more serious topics like “3 O’Clock things” and “Christmas in June” still have upbeat, happy melodies. The only possible exception to this is track eight, “The Trick,” which slows down at certain parts. 

Each track in “OK Orchestra” deals with a different issue that was prevalent in the minds of the three brothers at the time of writing the album. From start to finish, the album talks not only about dealing with current issues but coping with past issues as well. 

After “OK Overture” the album kicks off with their August 2020 single, “Bummerland,” which puts an optimistic spin on negative emotions and events. This song may even be describing some emotions that came with lockdown, as most of the album was written in 2020. 

Following “Bummerland” comes perhaps one of the most unique songs in this album, “3 O’Clock Things.” The song has a different feel to it than the rest of the songs in the album. It used an orchestral choir and has some slower parts, unlike most other songs in the album.

 Similar to “Bummerland,” “3 O’Clock things” also focuses on worries and issues, but it lacks the optimistic spin. The theme of the song is almost similar to the theme of “Karma.”Jack and Ryan said in an interview with the Zach Sang Show that they wanted to include a political song, but that they wanted to ease into it. “3 O’Clock things” accomplishes just that.

“My Play,” the second single released for the album focuses on parietal divorce and its impact on a child. The song is most comparable to “Turning Out,” from “The Click,” as it has a similar sound and is about the same speed. Despite the gloomy lyrics, theme and voice of the song, parts of the instrumental chorus are still upbeat.

Continuing the album’s theme of reminiscence, “Joe” is a fast-paced, upbeat song where Jack sings for Ryan, who recalls a real person who he looked up to in high school, but who was a negative influence that he had growing up. Though he sees this person as a “god,” the feelings of admiration are not reciprocated. Despite its fast-paced chorus, “Joe” has a surprisingly slow ending verse, where Jack, the group’s main singer, sings about the impact that this negative influence had on his brother’s life and tells Ryan’s story.

In their second album, “The Click,” track six was titled “Turning Out.” Sang by Jack, it was very much a coming-of-age story where he contemplated his romantic relationships, questioning whether he was ready for a life of love, or if he was still turning out.

Track six of their previous album “Neotheather” was “Turning Out pt. ii,” sung by Ryan. Therefore some fans were expecting track six of “OK Orchestra” to be “Turning Out p.iii,” and perhaps even sung by Adam. However, Ryan did not feel that the album needed a turning out p.iii, so instead, fans got “Adventure is Out There.”

“Adventure is Out There” begins with the somewhat attention-grabbing line of “I keep losing my socks. Where the hell do they go?” The song goes on to describe the common household dilemma of losing one of a pair of socks and explains the possible “adventures” the socks could be on. 

The song was originally supposed to be released on “Neotheater” as a song called “Socks,” but AJR thought the song was too similar to other songs on that album. Changes, such as having Ryan sing the verses instead of Jack, were made, and it ended up being on “OK Orchestra.” 

The song describes the quality of being an introvert. In an interview with the Zach Sang Show, AJR explained that they liked the idea of using the metaphor of socks to describe how the socks have the confidence to go out and explore the world, while sometimes, not every person has that same confidence.

Interestingly, “Adventure is Out There” is sung by both Jack, who sings the chorus, and Ryan, who sings the verses. While he does much of the writing, composing and editing for AJR, Ryan is seldom heard actually singing his songs. Even “Dear Winter,” which was a personal story Ryan was telling to his future child, was sung by his younger brother, Jack. 

“Bang!” is the seventh track on the album. Originally released in August of 2020, “Bang!” was actually intended to be a song on the deluxe version of “Neotheater.” With over 143 million listens on Spotify, “Bang!” is “OK Orchestra”’s most popular single.

After “Bang!,” comes “The Trick,” which is the same length as “Bang!” at only two minutes and 50 seconds, tying them for the shortest songs on the album. Like “Joe,” “The Trick” continues the reminiscing theme of the album by describing the ‘trick’ of lying from childhood to adulthood and focuses on self-improvement by “get[ing] out of this” cycle of lying. Though it is a slower song, it is easily one of the best, most unique songs in the album.

Featuring the Blue Man Group, track eight is titled “Ordanaryish People.” Based just on the theme of the song, it almost seems like it would go very well in “The Click,” as its focus is on the opinions of other people. “Ordanaryish People” would likely have gone very well in “The Click,” accompanying “Pretender,” “Come Hang Out” and “Drama.” As for the actual sound of the song, it perfectly fits the melodies heard in “OK Orchestra.” 

Like “Adventure is Out There,” track 10, “Humpty Dumpty” also uses a fun, genius metaphor to express negative emotions. The song talks about the fear that comes with sharing sadness and issues with friends. In the beginning, Jack entertains the idea that if he were to tell those around him how he was feeling, that he may find himself isolated. Once again, the themes of this song may have something to do with the fact that the album was written mostly in 2020, which according to BBC news may be one of the most depressing years yet.

Continuing the album’s clever use of metaphors, “World’s Smallest Violin” is about how even though one’s problems may seem small in the scheme of this, each person’s struggles do matter and deserve to be heard. The ‘world’s smallest violin’ is a metaphor for someone feeling that they have the world’s smallest problems. It begins by describing what the singer perceives as actual issues, such as PTSD from war and firefighting, then says “Next to them, my [problems] don’t feel so grand, but I can’t help myself from feeling bad.” 

“Way Less Sad,” track 12, was another one of the album’s singles. Though in of itself this song is not the most spectacular of the album, it fits very well with the theme in describing coping, or rather, the lack of coping, with issues. It has a very similar theme to “Bummerland,” and almost seems to be a bit similar to“The Entertainment’s Here.” 

Wrapping up this album is “Christmas in June.” One of the best songs on the album, Jack sings about a dilemma- whether to spend time building his musical brand, or to spend time with his significant other.

In some ways, “Christmas in June” seems like it could be the sequel or perhaps the conclusion to “Come Hang Out,” which is about AJR’s friends asking them to come have fun and hang out with them while they are still young. In that song, AJR ultimately opts to miss opportunities to see their friends in pursuit of music.

In contrast to this, Jack sings in the chorus, “You’re no longer gonna be the plan I miss. I won’t ever let you down. But just in case, can we do Christmas in June?”, showing that he wishes to choose his significant other over traveling for shows, though he still expresses uncertainty. In a way, it seems that the story has progressed as AJR has grown up across multiple albums and a period of four years.

From the recurrence of fun, clever metaphors, to the inspiring themes of reminiscence conveyed through mostly upbeat melodies, “OK Orchestra” is a genius work of art.