AJR’s single “BANG!” released in February 2020, peaking at eighth on the US Billboard Hot 100, making it the band’s highest charting single to date. If you haven’t heard this song and its addictively warped piano, earwormish explosion of a chorus, and beautifully accented brass and strings section by this point, you’d must have been living under a sad, soundproof rock.
AJR, taking their dependably unpredictable sound to the absolute max in this single, brought the whole house down after the band’s single year hiatus following their “Neotheater” album. But the beauty of “BANG!” lies in the fact that it is only the 7th track on AJR’s newest movement, “OK ORCHESTRA,” acting to whet fans’ pallets and introduce the theme of the rest of their album’s fantastic compositions with, yes, a bang.
“OK ORCHESTRA” opens up with a trademark AJR Overture track, a tantalizing mashup of the music that follows on the album. A woman’s narrating voice comes into play at the start, dictating that the band’s “drums become our melody,” before synthesizing a rapturous stream of hi hats into the intro to “Way Less Sad,” what I believe to be the crowning jewel of the album.
The overture track to each of AJR’s albums, especially in “OK ORCHESTRA,” stands as a testament to the alt pop band’s dedication to the mastery of sound and flow. In a flamboyant flourish of music that imparts a feeling close to pomp, AJR shocks their listeners right from the get-go, letting us know that the music ahead will be a journey showcasing their unique talents.
The magnitude of emotion and power ranges drastically in each one of “OK ORCHESTRA’s” songs, as would be typical of an orchestral symphony. Some uptempo songs like “Bummerland” and “Way Less Sad” are reminiscent of AJR’s more typical upbeat sound, incorporating high and bright notes behind powerful vocals, seamlessly blending tambourine shakes and trumpet trills into every peak of the song. Then songs like “The Trick” and “My Play” utilize distorted vocals that establish a more somber undertone to the piece, much like the quivers in one’s voice would establish the welling up of emotion beneath a facade. These songs then capitalize on this pent-up emotion to deliver strong blows of metallic clarity during their operatic sections, a compositional theme shared by every song on this album.
Altogether, each one of these bops are refreshing and satisfying in ways that lots of contemporary music – especially in the pop genre – typically fall short. By taking an interesting angle to the creative process and taking risks with atypical ingredients, AJR is able to synthesize a buffet of fresh hits of which the like no one has seen before.
But did AJR stop at producing a marvelous collection of musical masterpieces? One-upping themselves, AJR’s new website relaunch goes the distance to catch the eye. Found at ajrbrothers.com/splash, the band has taken to designing an entire virtual environment towards keeping their fans updated. Turning the web browser into a first-person exploration applet, visitors to the website get to traverse the inside of a glass gazebo teeming with charm, lit up warmly by a softly glowing autumnal bush in the center.
Website visitors are able to walk over to objects such as cabinets containing links to the band’s merch page, a piano that links to a twitter video of Ryan Met explaining the band’s creative process behind “OK ORCHESTRA,” and mysterious locked chests marked with dates that are meant to unlock in time with each one of the band’s big announcements for the coming year. And of course, the glowing center of the gazebo takes you to the album’s discography, where you can stream samples of the band’s music.
What AJR has made here is not simply an album, or some tacky promotionals. Perhaps analogous to the gambling imagery of “BANG!”’s music video and cover art, the band has chosen to go ‘all in,’ at their high-risk table of the music business, sparing no expense towards supplying their fans with a deep recognition of the band as a creative entity. With this sort of dedication and innovation, coupled with some serious musical prowess, the AJR brothers are gaining real momentum as pop icons, now able to use “OK ORCHESTRA” as a testament to how well they are capable of out-performing the competition on the way to the big leagues.