AJR provides lasting message with ’OK ORCHESTRA’

Sophia Bailly, Editor in chief

AJR, an American indie pop band that consists of brothers Adam, Jack and Ryan Met (hence the name “AJR”) released its long-awaited fourth album, “OK ORCHESTRA” on March 26. The album takes the band’s signature, impactful storytelling to another level. 

At the ages of 15, 5 and 9, respectively, Adam, Jack and Ryan began experimenting with music in their Manhattan apartment in 2005. The trio shared its musical talent with the world in 2006, through impromptu Central Park and Washington Square Park performances, gaining passing admirers through their wholesome songs and harmonics. AJR began as an idea, and became a reality on March 13, 2015, when the band released its first album, “Living Room.” The album wasn’t well-known, aside from the song “I’m Ready.” Their second album, “The Click,” was released on June 9, 2017. This time, AJR’s music gained more traction with songs “Weak” and “Sober Up” earning radio attention and sparking AJR’s growing fanbase. 

For years I’ve stood in AJR’s corner, waiting for the rest of the world to uncover the band’s talent, so for me, “OK ORCHESTRA” feels as comforting as it is rewarding.

Following the release of  “Neotheater” in 2019, I thought AJR hit its peak, gaining enough recognition and support to commit to an international tour. The band’s  social media presence expanded and its music became increasingly popular.

Due to the pandemic, I was unable to attend the Neotheator concert. However, to end a miserable year on a high note, AJR gave a virtual concert, “AJR’s One Spectacular Night” last December. While this did not equate to seeing the brothers in person, I can easily say that the concert was one of the most inspiring and memorable moments in my life. “Sensational” is the only way to describe the virtual concert; and after the lengths AJR went through to create a COVID-19-safe concert, while still upholding their signature special effects and stage production, I would say “sensational” is a well-deserved description. Despite being isolated from their audience through computer screens, Adam, Jack and Ryan maintained the same level of contagious energy throughout the night.

But the virtual concert solidified my skepticism as I asked the question: How can AJR top the “Neotheater” album? In December, when AJR announced “OK ORCHESTRA’s” 2021 release, I wasn’t surprised. Fans knew the brothers were concocting new music during the pandemic’s reign. But as anticipation for March 26 grew, so did my expectations. After the influence AJR’s previous albums had in connecting with audiences, I didn’t want “OK ORCHESTRA” to disappoint.

As AJR’s “quarantine album,” 12 months of pure creative bliss took flight during the fourth album’s creation. The brothers let their imaginations soar free. The morning of March 26, I listened through the new album three times in one sitting, then went back and listened again for days. “OK ORCHESTRA” will be one of the few albums I’ve come across that will resonate with me forever.

Each song is a new experience, with a captivating, unapologetic storyline that reads like a storybook. “OK Overture” introduces the album as an avalanche of chaos by mixing a glimpse of each song into one symphony. But as the overture nears its end, AJR pauses the musical storm for a brief message about growing up, before returning to one final burst of musical energy.

“OK ORCHESTRA” is AJR’s final outreach to fans in an attempt to say, “Growing up is difficult, but we make the most with what we have.” The oftentimes somber song lyrics are disguised as a theatrical wonderland and give off the allusion of a warm sunny day. But then audiences are pulled back to reality when they register lyrics such as, “I think I bored my therapist by playing him my violin,” and see past the veil of whimsical tones.

AJR’s continuous “coming of age” theme reached its peak in “OK ORCHESTRA.” Adam, Jack and Ryan are no longer the teenagers and young adults they were on “Living Room.” They can reflect back on what makes all stages of life difficult. The brothers can take sad, stressful topics and turn them into a musical conversation. 

You fear losing childhood friends. You fear losing time with your loved one. You fear the repercussions of your parents getting divorced.

You want to be happy, but you can’t help being sad. You want to make the most of your life choices, but you question every turn. You want to stand true to yourself, but you don’t want others to judge you.

Regardless of my endless appreciation for AJR’s songwriting skills, I will admit I have one minimal criticism regarding “OK ORCHESTRA.” Four of the 13 songs included on the track were released well before the album dropped. “Bang!” was released Feb. 12, 2020, “Bummerland” was released Aug. 31, 2020, “My Play” was released Dec. 22, 2020 and “Way Less Sad” was released Feb 17. 2021. While most of these song releases were well-planned, the album could have benefitted from releasing “My Play” with the rest of the track. “My Play” was an unexpected gem during 2020. The song takes audiences through a childhood reflection as AJR examines what it’s like to lose parents to divorce. While “My Play” is sad in nature, its beauty is undeniable. After listening to “OK ORCHESTRA” in its entirety, “My Play” still has the greatest emotional impact. Leaving “My Play’s” release until March 26 could have added yet another unexpected plot line to the album, and possibly enhanced the album’s shock value.

“OK ORCHESTRA”is as much of an outlet for creative expression from AJR as it is a gift to the world. While previous albums seemed to be a distinct gift for adolescents and teenagers nearing their college years and adult life, “OK ORCHESTRA” can transport audiences of all ages back in time to moments they want to relive, or possibly even forget. Adam, Jack and Ryan invite audience members into their journey through the ups and downs of life, which creates a unique bond between the band and its fanbase.

AJR wants its audience members to realize that regardless of how alone they feel, someone will listen or understand. As Jack sings during the final minute of “OK Overture,” “But I’m not dead yet, so I guess I’ll be alright,” audiences can nod along and think, “I will be OK.”