From The Living Room To The Hearts Of Fans: AJR Makes A Grand Return

AJR is an alternative techno-pop trio comprised of the Met brothers Adam, Jack and Ryan. Aside from their unique sound, the music group stands out from the rest in the industry by writing, producing, and mixing their own music. They first emerged in 2013 with their lesser-known album Living Room, including the comedic “I’m Ready” which features an audio sample from Spongebob Squarepants and the emotional indie tune “Infinity.” In 2017 they returned with the release their more popular second album, The Click, featuring “Weak,” the single adored by pop radio stations and fans everywhere. Featuring four new tracks, The Click (Deluxe Edition) came out in 2018 before their third record was released on 26 April 2019. While Neotheater was not officially announced until mid-March, “100 Bad Days” was dropped in late January. After announcing the title of the new album, the band also put out a second single titled “Birthday Party,” disclosed the tracklist, and announced a world tour. The last single to be dropped before the record was made available in its entirety was “Dear Winter.”

Before I get to discussing the new singles, I want to talk about how integral this band has been to my personal experiences in recent years. I initially found AJR after my sister, a devoted listener of pop and country music, played “Weak” on a car ride. I found myself thinking that I didn’t hate it, which was surprising because it was my sister’s music. Not until months later did I decide to look up the artist behind the tune, which is when I stumbled upon The Click. It immediately resonated with me. AJR writes songs about topics that some people may view as unconventional or strange, such as calling home, watching Netflix, or the influence of social media, but also creatively integrates deep and moving messages about growing up, appreciating the value of life, and dealing with the consequences of new-found fame. There is something on the album for everyone. In addition to their wide variety of lyrics, the band’s music is a unique blend of genres. I am not usually a fan of synth-heavy, classic pop music. However, AJR is able to manipulate their sound in a way that combines pop with alternative, indie, and techno. All definitive reasons aside, there was just something about AJR that immediately captured my attention and then held it tight. I have so many memories associated with this band and their music, from using a quote from one of their songs as the basis for my graduation speech to painting the The Click artwork on my graduation cap. This album’s release was particularly exciting and joyous for me, beyond the typical hype I experience before new music comes out.

Personal backstory aside, it’s time to talk about this new era for AJR. Part of what makes AJR so intriguing and authentic is their intense passion for the music they create and the messages they spread. At the time of the album announcement, they released a one-minute album trailer on their social media platforms, as well as YouTube. In it they discuss their creative process for the new album and how Neotheater came to be. As a huge fan of the band and someone who generally appreciates music overall, this short trailer nearly brought me to tears. It is so fun to watch the band working on their music and really understand the message they are trying to send with the album concept.

In a since-deleted instagram story, the band said that the album should not be judged solely off of the singles, as Neotheater is an entire experience that could not be represented by picking the “best” songs to release. They have also tweeted on multiple occasions asking people to listen to the album in order on the first listen and to go in with an open mind. That being said, I’ll start with my opinions on “100 Bad Days,” Neotheater’s first single. The tune opens with minimal instrumentation which allows the vocals to shine before layering percussion and backing vocals into the mix. The music drops out entirely with the exception of hand clapping for the pre-chorus, which features a pitched-down, heavily modulated singing voice. Following the pre-chorus, the beat drops to begin the catchy chorus. The lyrics are formatted in a way so that they can be viewed as humorous while still carrying an overall sadness, discussing how unfortunate situations can turn into interesting stories in the future—a simple and fun take on the common ideology of trying to see the best in everything. The tempo is quick paced,but the overall tone of the song is relatively melancholy.

AJR’s second single “Birthday Party” was not an immediate hit for me but has definitely grown on me over time. I predict that it will be one of the weaker songs on the album in terms of its lyrical content, however the synth style orchestration that opens the song and pops up throughout the song is probably the most musically interesting aspect of all three singles. The song speaks from the perspective of a newborn, expressing its opinions on what life will be like when it grows up. The irony of the song is that everything the newborn expects to happen is pretty contradictory to reality, with lines such as “I bet it's always gonna stay this fun / I bet it's easy staying 'way from drugs” and “I bet my ignorance is always bliss / Except ignoring pigment in our skin / I bet my country's nice to immigrants,” the latter of which also introduces a political element to the song. While the chorus is repetitive and plain, it’s still catchy, which is why the song is able to grow on you.

The final song dropped before the album’s release was “Dear Winter.” This song is much slower and more serious than the other two singles in addition to being entirely acoustic. While “Birthday Party” was sung from the perspective of a baby that was just born, this song is sung by Jack to a possible future, unborn child. Even as a teen who is not planning on having kids any time soon, the hopefulness and fear portrayed are still very touching. The tune is very relaxing overall due to its musical simplicity and calm vocals. I think “Dear Winter” will be a favorite of mine off of Neotheater.

If you’re looking for a creative, unique take on music with heavy pop and indie influences and well-constructed, emotionally charged lyrics, AJR is the band for you. Listen to their entire discography, including their new album Neotheater, on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. AJR are also notorious for their incredible live shows (I can attest to this!) so be sure to catch them on their world tour this coming fall. Lastly, if you want to stay updated on the future of AJR, you can find them on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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