This isn't AJR's magnum opus nor their Ok Computer unlike what the title might suggest but what it is, is a huge step in the right direction and shows improvements on quite possibly every front coming off of the click and neotheater.
I hope this is only a hint at what AJR could achieve in the future but as it stands, this album is super enjoyable despite its flaws.
And you know, you got to give it to AJR, whether you love or hate their music you cannot deny that sometimes, their ideas are actually really cool. Like take for example the opener OK Overture which brings together every song from the album into one, it teases you and gives you a glimpse of what's to come, and towards the end we get a little piano ballad interlude thingy about how it's hard to keep up with things now a days and he feels older than he should, it's not like brilliant or anything but it really really works, then it goes back into this symphony of songs before ending, in 4 minutes these guys managed to fit so much shit it's actually insane, they did something similar on the click but here it's expanded upon and feels like it works on it's own too not only as an opener for the record, like you could just put this song on if you wanted too and it'd feel like you're listening to one song instead of 12 combined.
But okay the intro track is pretty much great but nobody cares that much about intro tracks so how is the rest?
Well it's quite fun, AJR have shown improvements in a lot of ways on this album, they aren't as relient on pitch shifted monstrocities that are quite annoying nor does it feel like they're pandering as much as on previous albums, also about the pitch shifted thing, they're still here but they somehow actually work at points, yeah really.
The writing isn't as deluted, detached from itself and insuferrable as it was on the worst moments of the click ("who am i to tell me who i am" is one of the worst lyrics i've ever heard in a song, I'm sorry but wow that lyric is just bad in so many ways). The album is diverse, has some cool ideas and even though not every song is amazing or anything, there's a lot more great moments than bad moments here, I actually quite loved this one and even after multiple listens it didn't really grow off me.
Bummerland is the first proper track on the album and I think I like it a lot more than most people. Sure the chorus is quite weak by their standards but everything else around it is quite good sound wise. I like a lot of the things that are played with, those huge sounding drums, the background vocals, the synths. The instrument morphing thing is crazy smooth and satisfying to listen too, I seriously cannot get enough of that stuff I do not care that it's gimmicky it just sounds fantastic. Like it goes from a ukelele to vocals to a trumpet to an acoustic guitar to a violin like it's nothing, I don't know if they're the ones to come up with it but wow they execute it really well and it sounds so smooth and quite awesome tbh.
The lyrics on this song are...kinda confusing? Well they aren't annoying or bad they're just...weird, like he uses "getting haircuts" as an excuse for him to socialize in the first verse since he's been alone for so long he'll take any interaction he can get so he'll just go get haircuts until he's bald because he gets to talk with the barber there. Like yeah it kinda makes sense but...why the barber shop? Why not literally anywhere else? Still I can't judge it too hard however as at least it's not a blatant attempt at being more relatable like on previous songs (100 bad days).
The 2nd verse is about how he hopes to reach rock bottom so when he buys anything for himself (a beer in the case of this song) he'll feel like he acomplished something big which is a sentiment I get to a certain extend but it feels rather cowardly as instead of aiming for something bigger he wants to fail hard so aiming for something small will feel big. I wish it was a direct continuation of the chorus so it'll be more *I'm at rock bottom but it's okay because when I'll finally buy that first beer I'll be a god damn hero*, I think it would have made more sense. Still overall I get the idea behind it, wanting to get to rock bottom so things can get better already, and the chorus is when he is at rock bottom and is telling you that things are only going up from here. Idk it's not perfect but it's a pretty good song nonetheless.
3 O'Clock Things imo captures the feeling of being awake at 3 am and just thinking about everything well enough. I love that 40s filter they put on the trumpets and the sample they used, gives the whole song a 40s music vibe.
The song is essentially him thinking about a lot of stuff, it's not very cohesive per se but that's sorta the point, he's talking about how he's wondering if people are shy or if they just hate him, how he could have done YouTube instead of going to collage (yes that's a thing in this song), there's a bit about how sometimes we end up voting for the wrong people but excusing their actions because "they mean well", which is followed by him talking about how his friends might "dip" if he keeps talking about politics. The last verse sees him debating with himself about whether he should bring politics into his music, he's telling himself that he *obviously* shouldn't so he could keep half of his fans. This goes on for a bit before he goes "it's all a bit cloudy but if there's one thing I know is that, if you're fucking racist then don't come to my show". And then we get the chorus instrumental with some *LALALALA*'s faded into the background and it ends. Idk it's nice that he actually came to a conclusion by the end, and obviously saying that racism is bad isn't some brave thing because most people already know this but it's not a bad message and it is a necessary one, honstly a part of me kinda wishes he went deeper with this but hey it works for what it's trying to do. Anyways, I love this song, it's so much fun to listen too and the writing on the song actually works pretty well and comes off as likeable.
Then we have My Play which imo is a highlight of their discography for me. Those background pitch shifted vocals give the song a really depressing atmosphere. The song is from the perspective of his much younger self when his parents divorced. Usually I don't think AJR are very good when writing from the POV of a kid but here I find it really compelling as Jack delivers his best vocal performance (the distortion also really helps it honestly) and the lyrics feel very genuine even if the rhyming isn't exactly great. Most of the song feels like a plead for things to go back to normal as he tries to use him wanting to show both of his parents this 'play' at the same time because the 2nd time it won't be as special as an excuse for them to come back together but it's at the end where the song really reaches it's peak for me as he realizes that it won't happen and instead tells them that they did everything they could which is delivered in an honestly really impactful way. I think at the end he just gives in and shows both of his parents the play seperately, asking them if they'll pretend they don't notice any of his mistakes and telling them that things are gonna get worse before they get better and he hopes that they can forget it while they watch his play. It's cute, it's heartwarming, it's beautiful. Idk I love this song, it's genuinely really fantastic imo.
The next song is probably my least favorite song on the record, that and Humpty Dumpty. The song starts with a sample of Mozart and he beatboxes over it...yeah that's a fucking thing man and idk whether it's obviously stupid or obviously awesome. The lyrics about how he believed in God aren't all that interesting and they come off as kinda cringey especially at the start. The song is essentially him trying to get over some kid that bullied him back in school, yeah it's a bit petty, it's essentially him trying to brag about how he's played shows over the world n shit and feeling frustrated that he never came to any of his shows. He acknowledges that it's dumb at the end with the line "I don't even mind this is so dumb, so dumb" but like...what's the point of writing this song if you don't really care about it? I mean still I guess it's not really bad either, the hook is pretty alright and the song picks up near the end. It's stupid and pointless but also just catchy and fun enough to where it's not as bad as it could be.
Adventure Is Out There is sang by, I think, Jack. And yeah honestly, I prefer his vocals over Ryan's, if Jack ever leaves the band or something he should totally make like a singer-songwriter album, his voice would totally fit. On this song Jack's relaxed and pretty delivery over the simple but affective instrumental featuring some guitar and some marching drums sounds pretty great. I like the summer feel of the song that works nicely with the chorus (which is sang by Ryan) about how it's a "do nothing day" and adventure is out there so what am I doing inside? It's pretty simple and basic but affective. It's a beautiful song...but honestly I have no fucking clue what the fuck the verses are about, the whole socks thing just has yet to click with me and idk if it's a metaphor or literal. Still it's probably one of their best songs, lyrics aside it sounds quite great and is super enjoyable.
Bang! is the song you all probably have heard by now, it's catchy, the lyrics are kinda stupid and sometimes feel forced and the instrumental is y'know...what you'd expect from an AJR song.
But...what if I told you that the beat to the song is actually someone knocking on a door pitch shifted up then down then both of those sounds combined? Doesn't that sound cool af? Yeah...shame you probably couldn't really tell by listening to it. Yeah that's an issue with AJR, hearing them talk about their music it comes off as really creative but when you listen to it the cool stuff isn't really that cool as it doesn't stand out in the mix and the song still sounds like just another one of their songs. Well still I like the song, secretly even love it honestly. It's way too catchy for me to hate it I'm sorry.
The Trick is...interesting, lyrically it's about some kid whose been lying to people about who he is, stuff he's done, people he knows, etc..., to the point where he doesn't really have an identity. In the chorus he's telling himself that he'll get out of this too and if you try and run away from him he'll use his trick on you, the trick being that he can become anyone or anything by just lying about it. However he also says that "the truth is that I'm screwed", acknowledging the fact that once people realize he is full of shit nobody will really believe him again. I like the 2nd verse of the song where he's talking to a lover/partner about how he told her about how he went to France on their first date, and then saying that she can't meet his dad because his dad doesn't lie and she fell in love with "the me that went to France". That's actually an interesting place to take the song as we see the consequences of him lying so much. In the outro he's telling her that he really loves her but if she doesn't believe that then he's screwed and it ends.
For an AJR that's actually some competent storytelling and it works...the issue is more in the sound than the lyrics however. The verses feature this obnoxious off putting pitch shifted voice where I'm guessing he is trying to sound more like a kid but it doesn't work nearly as well as he thinks it does. The chorus sounds gorgeous though when he clashes the pitch shifted voice over his normal voice, seriously that sounds way too good. For once the lyrics carry an AJR song, that's new.
Then we have Ordinaryish People featuring the blue man group, yeah that's a thing. And it's fucking amazing. Okay let's start with the negatives, the lyrics are pretty stupid, I get the idea of it being *I'm leaving all my friends that are one dimentional and only have one personality trait, the sad friend, the happy friend, etc.., so I can be my own self* but man is it delivered in a dumb way with that line at the start of the chorus about dealing weed. The song is completely carried by the extremely fun instrumental featuring some great sounding and groovy trumpets. The chorus is extremely catchy and as a pop song it's nothing but great. I love this song, it's super fun.
Humpty Dumpty is another song that sounds stupid as fuck, the chorus at least. Well I'll give it this it's probably stupid in a memeable way. I will say the beat is pretty good and outside of the chorus the lyrics aren't all that bad. I don't have much to say about this one. It's just kinda okaaaay.
World's Smallest Violin is really awesome. I love the instrument morphing thing that pops up here a few times. The guitar that pops up here and there sounds great although I wish it was louder in the mix. I love the chorus, it's way too catchy. I was genuinely really addicted to this song because of how infectious it sounds. Lyrics are basically him comparing himself to other people, either people who are better at socializing than him or people in his family and how his stuff doesn't feel as important compared to theirs. At the end of the song it builds up and explodes and man that part slaps hard.
Then we got Way Less Sad which is probably their best single, outside of My Play and Sober Up at least. I actually really dig the lyrics about how *no I'm not happy but I'm less sad and that's what matters!*, it's about the small victories, you aren't gonna go from depressed to happy instantly and the song celebrates the fact that at least he's making progress. The groovy instrumental is great, I love that bridge, the autotune kinda gives it a hyperpop vibe that I wish was more prevalent throughout the record.
The closer, Christmas In June, is kinda cute. It's essentially about how many things he missed while on tour and serves as a promise that it won't happen again as they're basically stuck together in quarantine...*but just in case let's have Christmas in june*. Because he's free in June? I don't know why that month exactly but I get the idea of wanting to do everything important now when we have all of this free time so we don't miss them when things go back to normal. It's not just Christmas though, it's also his future marriage (there's a bit about him being afraid of having to choose between one big show that'll make him a star and his wedding) and his baby. Y...yeah.
However it was one line right at the end where the album completely clicked with me and why the score is this high.
"Now I'm sittin' thinkin' 'bout what else I'll miss"
Now...idk what exactly it is about this lyric specifically but when I heard it I just got what the album was going for, Ok Orchestra can essentially be viewed as a concept album of the experience of being awake at 3 am overthinking about...everything.
And it actually kinda works really well, lemme explain. In short, bummerland is him thinking about how far he's fallen and how he hopes to reach rock bottom again so things can get better, 3 o clock things is literally just him overthinking shit, my play is him remembering a childhood trauma, Joe is him still having issues with getting over that one guy that was a dick to him and trying to convince himself that he doesn't care more than it is about him proving to the bully that he is cool, Adventure Is Out There is his feeling of frustration about how there's a lot of interesting things he could be doing outside but instead he's just sitting at home doing nothing, bang! is like a promise we all make to ourselves that we just never go through with no matter how many times we tell ourselves we will, especially with the whole *its time to grow up...but let's just be kids one more time and go out with a bang though*, the trick could be interpreted as him feeling guilty for lies he's told and might be an overexxagurated narrative of him being so caught up in his lies that he starts to lose his identity (okay I'll admit with that one i'm really streching it here), Ordinaryish People is him thinking about escaping from the toxic relationships he is in, World's Smallest Violin is him thinking about nothing he does is really that important compared to what others do, like he'll never live up to what others did/do and feeling like his feelings aren't valid because some people have it way worse than him, Humpty Dumpty is him trying to accept who he is and enjoying what he has, Way Less Sad is the realization that things aren't really as bad as they seem and even though he isn't happy and things aren't great at least they are better than they were before and Christmas In June is his fear of missing out important events of his life.
These are all things that you might think about while being awake at 3am. The album is messy, the lyrics are at times incoherent and all over the place, sometimes things just seem to not make much sense. But with this framing in mind the album comes together in it's messiness and it all feels deliberate, AJR essentially found a way to work around their flawed at best writing. It's not perfect, maybe it's not really all that good either but it's extremely fun, addicting and the album executes this concept perfectly. To put it mildly, it's just 3 O'Clock Things.
Fav Songs: My Play, OK Overture, Adventure Is Out There, World's Smallest Violin, Bang!, Way Less Sad, Christmas In June, Ordinaryish People and 3'O Clock Things