AJR Thrives With the Theatrical Type of ‘OK Orchestra’: Album Assessment

If the Brothers Satisfied — Adam, Jack and Ryan, therefore AJR — didn’t exist, Wes…

If the Brothers Satisfied — Adam, Jack and Ryan, therefore AJR — didn’t exist, Wes Anderson might’ve had to produce them for a further of his erudite forays into cinema. Or Pasek and Paul could have summoned the bros’ imaginary presence for a single of their engagingly refined phase musicals. Or Fran Lebowitz or Tama Janowitz may have dreamed them up to embody the vibrant younger points of cosmopolitan Manhattan.

AJR, however, does exist in its have always-effervescent realm of the senses, 1 that, on its glowing new album, “OK Orchestra,” embraces all of the previously mentioned, ardently and poignantly. Further than a previously double-platinum-plated singles like “Weak” and an alternate album chart-toppers these types of as 2019’s “Neotheater,” this fourth, flourish-loaded album from the Manhattan-born trio is a harmonically vocalized, hyper-memoir-centric, atmospheric mélange of pop, hip-hop, and doo-wop with quirky rhythms and a salting of wise-assed They May possibly Be Giants for tart flavor.

In brief, AJR, significantly with this lavish fourth album, is making some of the most charming pop considering the fact that the Smiths’ “This Charming Man” — deeply rhythmic chamber pop without getting hermetically sealed. Yet as opposed to so much other smartly fussy songs that has historically bewitched and bewildered (e.g. the Kinks, XTC), there is almost nothing that arcane about AJR’s beguilement. Theirs is a totally contemporary allure offensive, a single whose speeding tone clusters and comfortable lure bits could reside as comfortably future to Drake’s “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” as they could Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows.”

Staged as some thing of a theatrical musical with a narrative by means of line and a glimmering, string-laden overture, the album’s opulent preparations and sing-music-y symmetry act as a piss-choose on Radiohead’s ruddy “OK Pc.”

Jack Met’s mild and airy clustered vocal operates fill the tasty ragtime-hop of “3 O’Clock Things” with the form of clammy faculty-course-sexual intercourse-and-political observations at the time reserved for Donald Fagen. “Bummerland” gives the brotherly harmonists a wall of sound to croon in advance of, with bricks made of skittering rhythms, screechy angel samples, swallowed trombones and what appears like a cacophony of tuned bells and mandolins dunked underwater. That very same skittering pulse, when combined with supplemental mallet-ed percussion, gives the anxious strength of “Joe” — an adolescent tale of believing in God and modifying the family members title (from Metzger to Met) — an adrenaline enhance that really should occur with a strobe light warning.

Adolescence guided by off-putting Forex is the key to just cannot-appear-away times these as the fearful “The Trick” (who realized a pet trick could sound so scary?) and the get-a-work monologue “Ordinaryish People today,” recorded with the Blue Gentleman Team,

Employing a hammered piano line and a rousing trumpet sample from Paul Simon’s “My Tiny Town” to develop questionably weary uplift,  “Way Fewer Sad” seems to eke out one thing approximating contentment at a time of isolation not exclusively related to the pandemic. Turning his back again for a moment on his beloved New York, an AutoTuned Jack cries “I never want to hurt no additional / So I established my bar genuine low” ahead of “Sad’s” pre-refrain: “I’m A-okay, I’m A-ok / You say it but you just really do not signify it… Shut up and just get pleasure from this feeling.”

Substantially of the back-and-forth emotion of “OK Orchestra” and its playwriting stems from a relatives dynamic which is not always in sync, as just one could consider from two brothers who are living alongside one another with the other a single down the road. It is not accurately Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” but you can think about the tension.

Just take “My Perform,” the centerpiece of “OK Orchestra.” A warbling ballad with a silent drum-and-bass shuffle, it finds the Brothers Met chatting tenderly about the toys of childhood and the parents who tended to them (“I ponder if they discovered my spaceship”). As soon as the song “My Play” settles in, nonetheless, the album’s straightforward delights change vinegar-sour, and its subtly rushed hip-hoppy vocals turn into a roaring operatic bombast of disconnect and divorce proceedings: “I put on a enjoy in my basement / Mom and Dad’s smiling faces / But now I don’t know if they faked it / Guess almost everything is sophisticated.”

After the bruising fact of that grand separation assertion, simply executed songs these as the circular “Humpty Dumpty” and the jigging “World’s Smallest Violin” originally miss the mark. But pay attention to individuals identical tracks away from the spectacular sequence of “OK Orchestra,” and both of those (in particular the cartoon Fx of “Violin”) are gem-like wonders that sparkle brightly.

Closing with the fortunately melodic, faucet-dancing “Christmas in June,” the Brothers Met, who are “trying so hard to be content,” notify a biographical tale of escalating up absurdly, nonetheless focused to craft, with lyrics this sort of as: “One major demonstrate will make them know my identify / But if it winds up falling on our wedding day / Oh God, don’t make me pick.”

As they pair their appreciate lives to the trivialities of the songs biz with blown gigs and radio spots substituting for passionate interludes, you can’t enable but mourn for the own missed chances they explain, even though applauding loudly for aesthetic achievements as strong as “OK Orchestra.”