AJR came out swinging with its latest studio album, “OK ORCHESTRA.” Written last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, “OK ORCHESTRA” offers listeners intricate musical stylings and thought-provoking lyrics that culminate into an incredible listening experience. Combining elements of electro–swing, pop and alternative stylings, no two “OK ORCHESTRA” songs sound alike.
The trio of brothers excels at curating a full and voluminous sound. By playing with its members’ vocal ranges, the group creates immense depth in its songs. Demonstrated primarily in the song “World’s Smallest Violin,” the brothers’ voices are stacked into chords, creating a satisfying progression. Their vocals, along with ukulele stylings throughout this piece, craft a beautiful discourse, making for an entertaining tune.
But “OK ORCHESTRA” isn’t just an exemplification of AJR’s vocal arrangement abilities — it’s a demonstration of the group’s musical bravery. The group isn’t afraid to experiment with lush instrumentation, especially on the track “3 O’Clock Things.” It features brassy instrumentals and jazz rhythms over a modern percussion section that includes the use of xylophones. The trumpet line — which takes prominence in the instrumental breaks of the song — is swung, giving the piece a jazzy feel. These components entice the listener to sway along to the music.
The musical stylings are paired beautifully with the theme of finding small moments of joy in the sadness of quarantine. The packed instrumentation enhances lyrics that convey a complicated mix of melancholy and alleviation. “OK ORCHESTRA” does not shy away from discussing the bleak and uncomfortable moments that have occurred over the last year. The truth of the lyrics, like “But I’m not dead yet, so I guess I’ll be alright,” may sting, but the accompaniment manages to cushion the blow. As a whole, the lyrics serve to relate to listeners who have been suffering through suffocating isolation.
Perhaps the most notable track with this theme is “Way Less Sad,” which was released as a promotional single for “OK ORCHESTRA.” Delivered with a catchy melody, the lyrics express the youthful nature of latching on to the little things that bring moments of fleeting happiness when the world is filled with pain. The lyrics are painfully reminiscent of the emotions that the pandemic brought about, like “I don’t wanna hurt no more / So I set my bar real low.” However, the lyrical wit of the group really shines when the group is able to make “Way Less Sad” into a deranged satirical song of victory for individuals who — after surviving 2020 — are hanging on by a thread, especially with lines like, “Living sucks / But it’s sucking just a little now.”
AJR shows off its songwriting talents again in “Christmas in June,” the realistic ambitious love song of the decade. Lyrics like “Plan on this / You’re no longer gonna be the plan I miss” offer a pragmatic yet heartwarming depiction of love. The lighthearted accompaniment of woodwinds and acoustic guitar offers a comfortable sonic atmosphere to the listener and builds up a feeling of truthful love — one that isn’t always perfect.
AJR has mastered the ability to write heavy and moving lyrics without weighing down the tracks. Each song on “OK ORCHESTRA” has new and exciting compositions that culminate in a sound unlike any of AJR’s prior work. This mixture of lyrical genius and beautiful melodies saturates the album in a bittersweet aura, capturing the complexity of emotions like love, loss, excitement and irritation. AJR offers listeners a sense of community, allowing beauty to be found in a sea of darkness.