Okay, OK Orchestra!

On March 26th, 2021, AJR released their fourth album OK Orchestra. The 13-track masterpiece lives up to their previous successes and incorporates the signature AJR sound and usual relatable lyrics while also introducing fresh concepts and new themes. Dedicated to pairing stories of growing up and common human experiences with a combination of digital techno beats and classical orchestral sounds, AJR provided us with new tracks that you’re sure to love just as much as other AJR projects. Here’s a track-by-track rundown of the album:

 

“OK Overture”

I love the intro with the spoken word building up to the beginning of the song because it reminds me of how AJR commonly includes a tutorial or walkthrough on the making of one of their songs at their live shows. It’s really indicative of who AJR is and their unique process of creating music. That being said, overtures are something that AJR is known for, with overtures appearing as opening tracks on their first and second albums as well. Their third album, Neotheater, instead had a grand opening song like a choral symphony. This change to the first track on the album wasn’t welcomed by many fans who were looking forward to another signature overture track, but “Next Up Forever” is one of my favorite songs on Neotheater, so I didn’t mind that they strayed from the usual. Long story short, I wish they had stayed away from the overture again for this album. “OK Overture” is underwhelming in comparison to their other overtures. There is too much vocal modulation, and the overall flow doesn’t feel as natural as their other mashups. There’s also a feeling of imbalance between the songs featured in the overture. In general, I’m a huge fan of long songs, but this track did not have to be four minutes and 30 seconds long. The next best part of this song after the intro is the last minute or so, where it’s actually not snippets of other songs but new lyrics that are only found in “OK Overture.” Since I actually really like the unique lyrics, I think that if the opening track had been an original song like “Next Up Forever” that it would have been much better and I would have liked it a lot. The lyrics of this last “verse” of the overture are really good and introduce the orchestral theme and some idea of the lyrical content of the album. Not the best song on the album, definitely not the best AJR overture, but also not the worst song on the album. 

 

“Bummerland”

This song is very catchy and has a lighthearted, joking feeling to it. It’s a good summer tune to get you in the mood for beach days and warmer weather, even though the lyrics contradict those plans. I think it will also be a fun song performed live. It’s very poppy and repetitive which makes for a good song to belt along to. The best part of this song is the instrumental break after the second chorus where there’s a cycle of instruments and vocals that play one after another and each merges into the next seamlessly. That being said, this song reminds me of the pandemic and I wasn’t a fan of the whole “write songs about the pandemic” trend that surfaced this past summer, so while it’s not a bad song, I think it would’ve been better as standalone single and didn’t have to be included on the album. However, if you didn’t know that this song was released during a major health crisis, you probably wouldn’t suspect it was related to COVID-19. Maybe it wasn’t written in connection to COVID-19 at all! The song overall is about getting to the lowest point in your life and knowing it’s going to suck, but since you’re at your all-time low you know at least things can’t get any worse. 

 

“3 O’Clock Things”

This song is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I love the retro-sounding choir echoing the intro at the beginning of the song and returning again before the bridge. It reminds me of a radio show or a jingle from an old TV commercial. It’s also reminiscent of the choir used throughout Neotheater, particularly in “Next Up Forever” and “Finale (Can’t Wait To See What You Do Next).” I think that one of AJR’s best talents, and one of the aspects of their music that I really love, is how they incorporate both old and new and intertwine them so well. Most of their music is digitally made and has a very techno feel to it, but they always include vintage or classic components within these modern pieces. In terms of the lyrics, I think they’re really relatable and real. The chorus takes a more serious tone after the seemingly lighthearted verses, which aren’t actually that playful when you look at the lyrics, but the music makes them sound brighter than they really are. For some reason I also have a soft spot for songs that include portions of spoken comments picked up during recording (think “!!!!!!!” by Billie Eilish and “Hallelujah” by Panic! At The Disco), which happens in this song just before the instrumental ending. 

 

“My Play”

When this song was released as a single early in 2021, many fans had a hugely positive reaction to it and felt really understood by it. As someone who (very gratefully) does not have divorced parents, this song doesn’t speak to me on the level that most AJR songs do. AJR have a talent for writing songs that are universally relatable and speak to the human struggles and mundane activities that everyone goes through in their lives, even if it’s during a particular time frame like childhood or college. However, this song is just not relatable for everyone, including me. I would probably like this song a lot more if it was more personal for me. It’s not just the lyrical content that I don’t vibe with, the vocals also feel a little off in this song for me. I’m usually a fna of crunchy vocals reminiscent of singing into a vintage microphone, but in this song the music gets louder while the vocals tone down so there is an imbalance between the two that I don’t love. The vocals end up sounding almost muffled. Overall, the song is pretty good in terms of musicality, but it’s not one of my personal favorites and ranks pretty low on my list of songs on this album. 

 

“Joe”

This is another song that’s ranked on the lower end of my list of OK Orchestra songs. I really like the beat and pace of this song as well as the percussion. The piano part is the most fun and definitely my favorite aspect of the song. It has the elegance of classical music, but it’s so fast that it almost reminds me of chiptune (the type of synthesized music used in old video games), especially at the end when the percussion and beatboxing plays over it. Most of the reason why I don’t like this song is the lyrics again. This song reminds me of “Beats,” my least favorite song on Neotheather. They give me similar vibes of trying to be ironic or prove a point but the lyrics end up coming across as cheesy. For some reason the lyrics of both songs just annoy me. 

 

“Adventure Is Out There”

The beginning of this song reminds me so much of a tune you’d hear in Spongebob! It’s so fun and kind of whimsical. When I first listened to this song, the opening lyrics really threw me off, but hang in three because it’s worth the ride. I really like the flow of this song. The steady beat behind the verses is very grounding and I like the contrast of the fast beat with the slower feel of the lyrics being sung. Speaking of, I also enjoy when Ryan sings, his voice has a more mellow tone and slides along the music. I told you the odd lyrics in the verse were worth it, and here’s why: my favorite part of “Adventure Is Out There” is the chorus. It has such a laid-back feel and I love the tone of Jack’s vocals. I also think it’s very catchy and fun to sing along to. Another great section of this song is when the beautiful piano part shines through during the bridge before the beat picks back up for the final chorus. 

 

“Bang!”

“Bang!” is the first single that was released off of OK Orchestra and originally dropped over a year ago, way back in February of 2020 (before the pandemic was even a thing in the United States, which is crazy to think about and so long ago!). Being a single, there was a good chance I was either going to love or hate it, as I have a tendency to not have a middle ground with most AJR singles. This is one single that I really liked when it came out and I still think it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. It’s very unique in how the verses are so empty musically, with mainly just a heavy piano sequence being prominent behind the vocals. The heavy piano on the downbeat contrasted with the bright horns on the offbeat gives it a grand back-and-forth energy. Overall, it’s really playful. The tempo is deceptively slow but doesn’t feel like it’s dragging the song down, it still has energy to it. Not only do I love spoken snippets from recording sessions, I also really love modulated spoken words or phrases in songs like the lines “here we go” and “metronome” in this song. It’s actually Charlie Pellett, voice of the New York subway system, who recorded those lines for the band for this song! 

 

“The Trick”

This is easily the worst song on the album. Why is nearly the whole track a weird autotuned voice? The lyrics also feel childish. The topic reminds me of “3 O’Clock Things,” except “3 O’Clock Things” did it much better. It’s not even just the lyrics and autotune that bothers me. I find the song boring in general. Sometimes a lack of instrumentation works really well for AJR, but this song feels empty and a little lacking. As much as I love AJR, there is one song on every album that I will skip without hesitation every time it comes on. On Living Room it’s “Thirsty,” on The Click it’s “Call My Dad,” on Neotheater it’s “Beats,” and on OK Orchestra it’s definitely “The Trick.” 

 

“Ordinaryish People (feat. Blue Man Group)”

I love the big horn intro right off the bat, it gives me big marching band vibes. In fact, the horn part throughout the song and the bridge with the Blue Man Group instrumental are my favorite parts of “Ordinaryish People.” This collaboration with Blue Man Group was a match made in heaven. There could not be a more perfect feature on an AJR song than Blue Man Group. If you don’t know Blue Man Group and didn’t know this song had a feature, you could believe it’s something AJR would create themselves. It’s different and distinctly special enough to make the song unique while perfectly aligning with AJR’s sound. Another aspect of this song I like is the dynamic between the pre-chorus and chorus throughout. I like how the first time around, the pre-chorus gets quiet with mostly just vocals present and it feels like you’re building up to a big beat drop when the chorus hits. However, the chorus still starts out low and slowly builds to a beat drop right after the chorus when the horns come back in. The beat does drop during the chorus the second time, but the element of surprise is still there and it works just as well since they already switched it up the first time so now you’re expecting it to stay quiet (but it doesn’t!). I think it’s fun that they mixed it up and didn’t have the structure every time. Overall, I find this song to be very lighthearted and fun to sing along to mindlessly. 

 

“Humpty Dumpty”

I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time I listened to this song because I didn’t know if the nursery rhyme theme was going to work for me, but it’s actually super fun and the chorus is one of the catchiest on the album. I catch myself singing it all the time! I also really like the energy and rhythm of the pre-chorus and how the lyrics change slightly with each repetition of the pre-chorus. Also, the first verse is so relatable, and overall the whole song is really relatable. The lyrics talk about always feeling like you have to show only the good parts of yourself to others and you can’t have low moments when you’re with other people. The song is really high-energy but the lyrics are pretty heavy when you listen to them. I think it’s going to be a fun one to see live. Something else I like about this song is that there’s more distorted voices speaking short phrases throughout the song, which I’ve previously mentioned is something I really enjoy in songs. Speaking of distortion, listen carefully before the last pre-chorus! I thought it was just a modulated piano instrumental but it’s actually highly modulated vocals and there’s a bridge there!

 

“World’s Smallest Violin”

This song is simply really good. It reminds me of “Karma” from Neotheater in terms of pace and style of the music, and the lyrics also explore a similar topic. This song starts out with incredible energy and speed. I love the choir tuning at the opening of the song and the clapping percussion while the vocals are really crisp and amplified during the first verse. Overall, this song, and the pre-chorus especially, reminds me a lot of folk/bluegrass music or jug band music. Imagine the kinds of bands that play at fall festivals! I think it’s fun how the choir chimes in every once in a while during the pre-chorus and the chorus. One of my favorite parts of “World’s Smallest Violin” is how the instruments transform from one to the other following the chorus, similarly to the bridge of “Bummerland.” It’s a very fun sound and keeps you hooked during an instrumental. Finally, the tempo speeding up at the end of the song before the abrupt cutoff ending is startling but very fitting for the song. You expect the song to end up somewhere new because it’s getting louder and faster, and instead it suddenly just ends which leaves you feeling a little caught off guard. It’s so fitting for the song because the whole song, with it’s quick tempo and tense lyrics, feels like a ticking time bomb and everything finally explodes at the end. 

 

“Way Less Sad”

This is one of the best songs on the album musically. The contrasting combination of the gravely piano and bright horns is great and the heavy bass really stands out throughout the tune. The pace of this song is perfect: slow enough to sing in a mellow, laid-back way while also maintaining some energy. It’s just the kind of song to have a solo dance party to and put yourself in a good mood. I love the tone of the vocals during the bridge, how they’re tinged with an autotuned echo the first time through. It adds an interesting twist to a repeated section of lyrics. I think this song will be really exciting live because of the clapping and the beat drops throughout. It will be really great to engage with as the audience because you’ll feel like you’re a part of the song. 

 

“Christmas in June”

I’m literally so obsessed with this song. I listen to it on repeat and sing it constantly. It’s probably my favorite song on the album if I had to pick just one. And for once, a song I like is reasonably long! I was blessed with over four and half minutes of this glorious song. The strings and wind instruments are so pretty and really amplify the orchestral tone and theme of the whole album. Also, there’s more modulated speaking at the very beginning! “Christmas in June” is such a bright, upbeat bop that fills you with good energy and makes you want to smile and move. Even though the lyrics are about making hard choices and letting down someone you love, there’s still a bit of a humorous tone to the lyrics. There’s a very captivating story told throughout the entire song. The lyrics also point to ties to many other AJR songs including “Come Hang Out,” the final track on The Click, and possibly “Dear Winter,” the second-to-last song on Neotheater. Overall I think the verses flow super well rhythmically and I love how the rhyming scheme spans multiple lines in the verses. I also like how the pre-chorus ist just the vocals with a guitar strumming before all the different instruments chime in for the chorus and the energy picks back up. “Christmas in June” is a very peaceful, satisfying end to the album since the song quiets down and the tempo slows as it draws to a close, wrapping up the entire album. 

If you haven’t listened to OK Orchestra, I suggest you check it out along with the rest of AJR’s discography. You can find them on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music. If you like their music, check out their recently announced tour dates for 2022! Additionally, if you want to read more about my thoughts on AJR’s music, you can check out this article. If you want to keep up with their future endeavors, you can find AJR on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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