AJR: OK Orchestra, 2021

Streaming Live X Live (AOTW)| 13 Tracks [45:42]

AJR released their new album today, March 26, 2021 and Live X Live chose it for the Album of the Week.  I’m grateful for that because AJR is a group of brothers who make a great sound together and have potential to be a reasonably great touring band (post-COVID). They follow the Billie Eilish/Finneas model of recording at home, in their living room. Could be the other way around I suppose.  I get excited about stuff like that because big studio snobbery shouldn’t block great music from reaching the world.

OK Orchestra starts out on the silly side with an unusual old school instructional public announcement made perfectly for elementary school and samples many pieces of other songs on the album. If you loop all the tracks in the background, at work for example, you get a feeling the album repeats itself, but it still takes 45 minutes to get through.  I haven’t decided if I’m a fan of this yet.

Anyway, on to ‘Bummerland’, which is a straight up COVID song about 2020. “Bummerland, here I am. Better nix my summer plans.” Wickedly true.  ‘3 O’Clock Things’ has a little more of the 50’s PA voice and takes a sly view of the election and social issues while suffering insomnia at 3 AM.  Not a good combo if you want to be a sane contributor to society the next day.  There’s a funny reference to Trump and the Broadway hit Hamilton but go listen to the song on Live X Live.  It’s 100% free! Unlimited for 7 days.

‘My Play’ reminisces childhood.  ‘Joe’ is evidently about a kid one of the brothers knew back in 8th grade.  And by now the cleverness of 3 O’Clock has waned and I’m over some of the childishness that comes through the songs. ‘Adventure Is Out There’ is about lost socks and where in the world they might be? It’s ok, I guess.

But then we get hit with ‘Bang!’ Suddenly, the juvenile progression of the album is taking a turn.  Bang! was the last song played before midnight on NBC’s New Year’s Eve 2021 show.  It was a most excellent choice to finish the worst year in recent history.  The vibe starts mellow as they sing about growing up, which is a frequent theme on the album, as are the call backs to 8th grade.  They are making a difficult transition into becoming adults as they deal with taxes and the realities of the work environment.  Bang! Is very singable, yes, my word again.  There’s a nice swing into the chorus and the cadence of the Bang, Bang, Bang, is jammin’.  Super easy to learn the lyrics although the song runs a little on the short side at 2:51. Either way, Bang! grabs you by the ears and gets you pumped.

Next is ‘The Trick’ and they use some strange falsetto of a younger boy whose voice hasn’t dropped through most of the song but it’s depressing.  Using the trick, the character can be anything but it’s a dark twisted fantasy that doesn’t feel right if you’re in the back of some kid’s dad’s van.

‘Ordinaryish People’ opens with big band sound and returns to adulthood and how critical we all can be of each other. ‘World’s Smallest Violin’ is a play on not having sympathy for someone.  The singer is looking for an audience to complain to about feeling inferior. ‘Way Less Sad’ starts to show some hope and, unlike 2020, we see a brighter future ahead.  I think we are all less sad now {deep breath…repeat}.  This song also brings us back to adulthood and now we’ve advanced past 3 O’Clock and it’s 3:30 AM and the insomnia curse still haunts your mind.  Something we all relate to.

‘Christmas in June’ has reached a level of maturity because it’s the reality of disappointing the people we care about while pursuing our careers.  This song must derive from of one of the AJR brothers had their experience with a significant other as they became more successful.  They try to compromise by arranging alternate plans and they are torn between the relationship and the career.  They feel lucky that they have love and success, but they try to cover their bets and plan Christmas in June in case something else comes up, like being on tour, during Christmas. It’s about broken promises and sacrificing for your art.  It’s a great song to finish the story of this album because it mirrors life.  We all get older and must make choices that often come with sacrifices.  That’s adult reality nobody wants to face but the song does it well.

Best songs are Bang!, Christmas in June, Bummerland, and 3 O’Clock.  Worst is ‘The Trick’ because it comes off creepy.  The album is a pretty nice story arc from beginning to end with a climax in the middle. It’s probably a better album to purchase intact rather than cherry pick the good stuff.  I’m happy to give OK Orchestra a score of 6 of 10.  AJR is building (and maturing) and could be fun to see live because whatever they do on stage will be visual craziness, I’m sure.  They have several very respectable songs from their album The Click and I’m excited to see what comes next. 

Please Follow @poorcritic on Twitter and look at my Facebook page for The Poor Critic. Writing is cold and unsatisfying absent of pleasure if it can’t be shared.  Please tell a friend. Thanks for reading!

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