I feel foolish - bamboozled, in fact - I was ready to be pleasantly surprised by a band I long counted out and I would write a review celebrating artistic growth and how it’s something even your least favorite acts can achieve. I should have just expected the inevitable pimp slap by a Mickey Mouse glove made of Gushers and Cocaine. This is first evident in “OK ORCHESTRA’s” production, which every choice from the arrangement to the composition is so over indulgent and gaudy. The worst repeat offenders are the ugly sound pitch shifts, the millennial whoops (I guess that’s never going to go away), and the god awful random sound effects and ad libs - AJR adds so much tacky, random shit in the middle of their songs for no reason at all, I can’t help but wonder if it’s to stop them from getting bored of their own songs. On top of that, “OK ORCHESTRA” is still derivative of the worst generic indie pop trends of the mid 2010’s that plagued their previous albums - except now many of those trends are phasing out, so it feels particularly like they’re beating a dead horse.
“OK ORCHESTRA” is also weighed down by AJR’s now famous childlike form of writing (not youthful, childlike). AJR’s artistic voice is trapped in a state of arrested development, writing, - with no sense of subtlety - about more serious themes such growing up, adulthood, and mental health, but seemingly from the perspective of a literal child. Not only are many of the lyrics clunky, not particularly poetic, and barely grounded in any sense of reality, but most of the themes addressed here are barely even taken seriously, taking what I assume are themes they care about and making them come across as silly or quirky like a Buzzfeed article. There are even points where they’re clearly referencing the pandemic and the 2020 election, some of the most universally shared traumatic events in recent history for reasons that would extend this review, and AJR doesn’t seem to say anything new, or significant, or insightful, or treat it seriously in favor of a message that boils down to saying “gee, well doesn’t that just suck?” Continuing the earlier Micky Mouse reference, Disney is also often known for tackling adult situations by connecting them to childlike experiences, but Disney always approached said topics with the seriousness they deserved, whereas AJR seems to present everything as a bad 2013 Tumblr meme.
I can’t tell you if there’s anything here that AJR did that was better or worse than previous albums, maybe there is, but their records are so consistent in lack of quality and they’ve grown so little as artists that it doesn’t make sense to even try to compare them to each other. I’m sure I’ll hear about it if they end up making something good and maybe then I’ll check that out, but I’m so exhausted from hearing the same band consistently make “Worst List” worthy albums (spoiler alert) that I think “OK ORCHESTRA” is probably the last time I’m listening to them for a while.