Dom Reviews: “OK ORCHESTRA” (2021)

%22OK+ORCHESTRA%22+Album+art+courtesy+of+genius.com

“OK ORCHESTRA” Album art courtesy of genius.com

AJR is an alternative/indie-pop American trio made up of three brothers: Adam, Jack, and Ryan Met. AJR. Get it?

Since 2014, the brothers have released multiple EPs and three studio albums. Thanks to a handful of breakout hits such as “I’m Ready,” “Weak,” “Sober Up,” and “Burn The House Down,” the band has been met with fairly great popularity. 

Their fourth and most recent album, OK ORCHESTRA, sees the band expanding on the sound they’ve established in their previous releases, but not to the point where it’s a completely new sound for them. 

As someone who has listened to most of AJR’s discography, my feelings towards the band have generally been overwhelmingly negative. When the brothers aren’t blatantly ripping off of bands like Twenty One Pilots, they’re scrambling to find a half-cohesive sound that isn’t crammed with cringey lyrics, annoying vocals, blown-out instrumentation, and questionable production choices. 

Needless to say, I wasn’t going into this album with high expectations. All AJR had to do was deliver a listenable album in order to impress me. 

As it turns out, they couldn’t even do that. OK ORCHESTRA is easily one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard in my life and it’s frankly insulting that the album’s title references the masterpiece that is Radiohead’s OK Computer

Track by Track

If I had to choose three words to describe this album, they would be cringeworthy, messy, and lazy. The opening track, “OK Overture,” epitomizes these three words. It’s an absolute mish-mash of autotuned and high-pitched vocals, random instruments, and about four different sections with different vibes. The lyrics on this track are all excerpts from other songs on the album, and they aren’t even good (but we’ll get to that later). It’s meant to be more of a cinematic opener to showcase the range of sounds that are presented on the album, but it’s just a confusing mess of a song. I honestly can’t imagine anyone listening to it casually or out of context from the album. Like many of the other tracks on this album, it just feels like a wall of sound thanks to the poor mixing.

Photo of AJR courtesy of billboard.com
Photo of AJR courtesy of billboard.com

“Bummerland” has this big, pounding drum beat with rattling tambourines and background vocals singing “Da Da Da’s” which actually work pretty well in keeping the song’s momentum. Yet, the song is all but ruined by AJR’s trademark cringe high-pitched vocals and lyrics that make me wince. The song moves between celebrating being sad/being at one’s lowest point and trying to lift the listener away from these lows. Clearly intended to be a quarantine jam, Jack sings on the chorus “Bummerland/Here I am/Better nix my summer plans/Bummerland/Sorry dear/But you’re only going up from here.” The vocal melody on the hook is simply annoying to me. The bridge sees a certain melody shifting from these awful, artificial high-pitched vocals to various other instruments. If AJR thought this was supposed to impress me from a production standpoint, they are sorely mistaken. By the end of the song, I feel exhausted and not in a good way.

“3 O’Clock Things” has this awfully out of place intro that’s supposed to sound “old-timey” but comes off as trying too hard to be quirky. The lyrics on this song actually start out pretty strong and humorous: “It’s kinda funny how I paid for college/When YouTube was an option/But then I would’ve had to spend/My best years/Skipping ads and readin’ comments.” However, it’s not long before AJR becomes a parody of themselves with lyrics that are funny but not in the way that AJR intended: “I feel like everyone I know right now/Is hooking up and getting wasted (Without me)/And maybe sex is overrated/But we’re too shy to ever say it.” People are actually singing this to themselves? You’re allowed to not be crazy about sex, but this line makes me want to shrivel up and die of cringe. If the lyrics weren’t enough, the hook is as forgettable as the rest of the song. The instrumentals don’t evolve at all; the track ends with “If you’re f***ing racist then don’t come to my show.” Great sentiment, but bad execution by shoehorning in this message at the end of a song that’s supposed to be mostly funny. 

“My Play” is another large helping of cringe. It’s a song about childhood innocence but done in the most grating way possible. On the more somber verses, there are, yet again, extremely annoying pitched-up vocals in between Jack’s phrases. Lyrically, the band throws us into the mind of a child who is begging his parents to watch their made-up play in the family basement. The band gets far too overly dramatic on the chorus and Jack’s terrible shouting makes it hard to sit through this three-minute track. The repeated word “really” gets old instantly during the first listen. The frustrating thing about this track is that the instrumentation isn’t even all bad. It’s cinematic and not nearly as poorly produced as other tracks on the album. A different band or artist would have handled these instrumentals so much better.

Photo of AJR courtesy of americansongwriter.com
Photo of AJR courtesy of americansongwriter.com

On this track and a number of others, AJR insists on including these really loud and obnoxious trap beats. They completely clash with the aesthetics AJR is aiming for and it just comes off as ugly.

It’s here where I really started questioning what audience AJR is trying to appeal to. Given the generally Disney-esque and childlike innocence they are proud to flaunt, one might assume that their demographic is kids. However, they will occasionally curse and mention alcohol and sex in their songs. So which is? Who is actually listening to this band? It’s so juvenile yet also weirdly mature.

This theme continues on tracks like “Humpty Dumpty” and “Adventure Is Out There”. Both feel like they are aimed at kids, but are lyrically inappropriate for that age group. For me, having it “both ways” simply doesn’t work.

While we are on those two tracks, “Humpty Dumpty” has one of the most annoying choruses I’ve heard on the album with a terrible, repetitive hook and (say it with me) utterly CRINGEWORTHY lyrics about Humpty Dumpty saying “screw it” when he fell. Why? Why is this a song? “Adventure Is Out There” sounds like something from a D-Tier children’s animated movie with lyrics that are so painfully bad that all I have to tell you is that the first verse is about the singer losing his socks. It’s not even funny.

I cannot overstate the intensely negative reaction my body has towards some of these songs. I really wish I didn’t hate them as much as I did, but listening to this album multiple times for this review was extremely painful. 

The song “Joe” is the worst song on this album and suffers from a clusterf**k of a chorus with terrible production, annoying high-pitched vocals AGAIN, and a tone and sound so bright and garish it should be considered a form of torture. This is, unironically, one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard in my entire life. 

I don’t know what this band’s infatuation with high-pitched, artificial-sounding vocals is,but it will always sound terrible. The song “The Trick” subjects the listener to almost three straight minutes of it. 

I won’t even bother with the rest of the tracklist because it’s the same old terrible monotony: cringeworthy writing, production that is so blown out and poorly done that it sounds like I’m listening to a car accident, and a refusal to perform vocals that aren’t utterly grating to the listener. I’d simply end up repeating myself a lot like I already have.

Photo of AJR courtesy of mix957gr.com
Photo of AJR courtesy of mix957gr.com

However, I’d like to end the track by track on a positive note. Among some of the worst songs I’ve ever heard in my life, this album has two listenable songs: “Bang!” and “Way Less Sad”. The former is a song I genuinely like. It has this woozy, warped piano riff with a rattling trap beat and great use of a brass section to boot. Lyrically, it’s about Jack coming to terms with his adulthood in a relatable way. The chorus is big, memorable, and is a genuinely great sing-along moment. The announcer stating “here we go” before each chorus was a unique touch that goes over well. Despite this, even here the band manages to disappoint me with the nonsensical “Oo-dee-la-dee-doe” line sung multiple times in the second chorus. However, I generally really enjoy the song.

“Way Less Sad” isn’t as memorable or bombastic, but it has a killer trumpet riff on the chorus and a tone that, as much as I hate to say it, makes me feel happy. The production on the chorus is actually done quite well and I wish I could say the same for the rest of the album. As with “Bang!,” this song is also not without fault. The autotuned vocals on the bridge are unnecessary and don’t add anything stylistically to the track. If anything, it’s a distraction from the organic instrumentation of the chorus. This song also has a great piano riff like in “Bang!”.

Final Verdict

OK ORCHESTRA confirms how I’ve always felt about AJR’s music: it’s bad. If you want to take anything away from this album, check out “Bang!” and “Way Less Sad”. The others are not worth anyone’s time. This 45-minute cringe-fest did absolutely nothing but make me depressed that popular music can reach such great lows. I’ve had to take breaks to listen to good music just to cleanse my palette of this album.

Rating Scale:

0 – 4 = Ranges from “utter garbage” to “generally disliked it”

5 = Indifference

6 – 10 = Ranges from “generally liked it” to “masterpiece”

Final Rating = 1/10