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In AJR’s most recent album, “OK Orchestra,” released on March 26, the trio of brothers stick to what they know and do well. Relying on their unique instrumentals in the pop space, AJR augments the mood and drama with synth-style additions to their music. The album in its entirety flows like any of the group’s other well-curated releases. The LP almost feels like one 45-minute song, but at times fails to truly deviate from their previous albums. “OK Orchestra” toys with the comedy and depth expected of the trio, while leaving the listener wanting just a bit more.
In its first track, “OK Overture,” the album is introduced with snappy and comic narration walking the listener through the story the remaining 12 songs will tell. It’s a fun addition to the album that does not detract from the overall theme or flow of the album. The catchy rhythm of the song, with nice instrumentation setting the stage for the rest of the album, previews the ups and downs of the songs that follow.
With a slurry of popular songs, the album plays out comfortably. “Bang!,” “Bummerland,” and “Way Less Sad,” all dropped as teasers for the album in the months leading up to the release in late March. Based on their critical acclaim, it seemed as if “OK Orchestra” would be a shoo-in for another knock-out album from a well-loved band.
“Bang — probably the most popular song in the mix — was initially planned to be included in the deluxe version of their previous album, but instead appears here. This bit of fluidity between the two albums and their noticeably similar sounds makes it seem as if “OK Orchestra,” although fleshed out and mature as an independent project, plays as a part two of their previous release.
In the last half of the album, the songs mature and stand out as uniquely a part of the current album. With the distinct sound of “Joe” and “The Trick,” AJR takes that step that “Bang!” couldn’t. “Joe” is a boppy coming-of-age story about an icon in school breaking away from the self-imposed need to find fulfilment through others. With an audience of school-aged people, “Joe” is an impressive lesson to mix into their upbeat, dance music.
“The Trick” breaks heavily from the rest of the album. This track has a warbled, entrancing vocal to start and sets the mood for an enthralling listen. Capitalizing on their talent as instrumentalists and electronic artists, AJR curates an incredibly unique experience in just the one song. It’s a welcome relief to have something to break up the monotony of the rest of the album.
Although not a perfect album, “OK Orchestra” breaks away from some of the stereotypical moods that AJR has created to do something entirely distinct and enjoyable. While there are moments that fail to showcase the group’s development since their last album, it’s refreshing to hear the talent of these three brothers really shine when they take those steps to craft something truly new to them and their genre.
— Staff Writer Mikel J. Davies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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