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Album Review: 'OK Orchestra' by AJR

AJR continues to find innovative ways to do the same thing musically over and over again. The band has found its sweet spot for playing with vocals and sounds to make something that sounds new and interesting but when compared to the things they have produced before it leaves me wanting. This could very well be that I am a 21-year-old who has been a fan since I was 16. Their target audience is very clearly still 15–18-year-olds and I grew up while their intended audience hasn’t. There is something to be said for knowing your audience and making music for them, it is a great way to continue to grow in popularity and make some money. I respect AJR for doing this. Where this strategy fails is for fans such as me who look forward to watching a band grow and adapt and to maybe stop idealizing being 18 when they are well into their twenties.

OK Orchestra itself does deliver on the AJR formula of complex sounding music with some specific emotions thrown in. This album brings the return to their traditional “Overture” and it delivers as an overview of the music to come. Compared to their other overtures though this one is not a song you would listen to on its own. The voice explaining how the music is made is cool, but it is not conducive to a listen outside of the album. The best example of what these overtures can be came from their The Click album.

The one thing that AJR really nailed on this album is allowing for sounds to blend into one another. Singing becomes a trumpet melody, a violin blends into vocals then a trumpet and then drums. “World’s Smallest Violin” is the song to listen to for what I’m describing. Their ability to manipulate sound has been their signature and this sound blending is the coolest thing they’ve done yet.

OK Orchestra is so close to sounding like something new. The cooler songs like “Joe”, “World’s Smallest Violin” and “Way Less Sad” are great. They push the envelope on what the band has done while maintaining the classic exposure of specific emotions. The songs we will hear all summer like “Bummerland”, “Bang!”, “Way Less Sad”, and possibly “3 O’Clock Things” are the safety nets. I would have loved for them to explore the weird a bit more on this album.

If you’re not a fan of AJR this would be a very good starting album, it showcases what they’re about and will remind you of some specific feelings such as proving something to a bully or the general reach towards happiness that we all do. I like AJR and I like what they do, their Neotheater album continues to host many of my favorite songs. OK Orchestra failed to be the introduction into the next era of AJR that I hoped it would be.

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