REVIEW: AJR provides unique production, lyrics on ‘Neotheater’

Online editor Liza Armstrong writes that AJR's new album

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Online editor Liza Armstrong writes that AJR's new album "Neotheater" combines honest lyrics with unique beats to create an album that can and should be listened to in one sitting.

Liza Armstrong, Online Editor

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Few artists today make an album that can be listened to from start to finish, and even fewer can compile songs that compliment each other. But AJR’s third album “Neotheater” proves that the art of the album is not dead.  

AJR, made up of brothers Adam, Jack and Ryan Met, gained a sizeable fanbase after the release of their sophomore album “The Click” over two years ago. Since then, the band has become known for writing lyrics that comment on societal norms, for example“The drama is dangerous/But it’s so exciting to us” from “Drama,” one of their more popular songs.  And while “Neotheater” claims to be completely different from previous work, the album is almost completely made up of songs that continue to discuss these truths of living in the modern world against a backdrop of mutated, almost alien instruments. Their genre is hard to define as I would place them somewhere between alternative and pop, but Neotheater” did take the number one spot on the Billboard 100 rock albums.  

The most political song on the album by far is “Birthday Party,” sung from the perspective of a newborn baby, lyrics like “I bet my country’s nice to immigrants” and “I bet I’ll see a female president” are paired with the repetition of a distorted clarinet in the background. While some may argue that it is not a musician’s place to comment on politics, I found it refreshing. The fact that they are not afraid to put their controversial ideas into a song and take a hard stance is not seen in much of today’s music.   

Authenticity through hard truths is seen through the majority of the songs on this album. “Karma,” my favorite song, is sung by Jack Met, the lead singer, from a hypothetical therapy session. He talks about his bad luck despite his intentions to make the right choices in the world. While the lyrics themselves are relatable to all, it becomes evident that they connect personally with  Met within the last 40 seconds of the song where he completes his verse in one breath. This effect is meant to show that while the session is winding down because of time constraints, he still has many unanswered questions.

Other songs, like “Dear Winter” and “Turning Out, Pt. ii,” focus on generic  topics that the band typically stays away from, but they bring a new twist to these topics. “Dear Winter” is sung to a hypothetical son, Winter, about the relationship Jack Met hopes to form with him, but what makes it generic is the fact that he has to find the kid’s mom, almost turning it into a love song with lyrics “I gotta find a girl who won’t mind that I’m inside my head a lot.” “Turning Out, Pt. ii” is AJR’s take on a love song, this time about an ended relationship where the singer, in this case Ryan Met, says “I think I probably wasn’t in love with you/I think I probably loved the idea of you.” The use of Ryan Met’s haunting voice over Jack Met’s melodic one adds to the disheartening atmosphere of the song, leaving me with goosebumps every time I hear it. Both of these songs add a much needed dose of sorrow to the album in order to bring listeners on an emotional journey from start to finish.

While the songs are not connected through one central story, they are rather connected through a theme that is best categorized as growing older and losing the naivety of childhood.  Through strategic ordering of songs, the band makes it extremely hard to skip any one track, with the opening song, “Next Up Forever,” and “Finale (Can”t Wait to See What You Do Next)” acting as the perfect bookends to help  listeners get lost in the plucky atmosphere of “Neotheater”.

Besides the thought-provoking lyrics, the band  revealed through social media that every song contains a piece of another song from the album. This adds to the already complex layers of each song and forced me to listen to each song at a more focused level, and while I did not pick up on every “easter egg”, I did find more meaning in the songs or even a new sound that I did not hear before.  For a first time listen, set aside 45 minutes so you can take in the album all at once. I promise, you will be instantly hooked.

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