AJR - Neotheater

The process of growing up and figuring out this crazy thing called “life” comes in phases for a lot of us. First, there is the transition from being a kid to a young adult (with moderate changes in responsibilities), and then a young adult to a full-fledged adult (with major repercussions and changes all across the board). These transitions are messy, awkward, and at times too much to handle on our own. AJR come to terms with the latter transition on Neotheater semi-gracefully.

Most of the lyrical content and story-telling is thru the lens of lead vocalist, Jack Met, who is only 21. AJR is comprised of two other brothers, Adam and Ryan Met, to round out the multi-instrumentalist band that changes styles, genres, and tempos whenever they feel the need for it. Jack sums up the process of growing up on the opener “Next Up Forever” by stating, “I know I gotta grow up sometime, but I’m not fucking ready yet.” Many of us can relate to this situation of taking on newer roles and responsibilities as we age, yet Jack tends to take most of this in stride as we navigate through the LP.

For those of you new to the world of AJR, it is difficult to pigeon hole exactly where the band fits into a particular genre as they check so many different “boxes” along the way to develop their sound that is now three albums deep. Take, for example, a song like, “Birthday Party,” that features several looped samples and strange vocal effects. Most of us would classify this song as a standard pop song, yet they feature elements of electronic and dubstep to enhance their reach of audiences. Lead single, “100 Bad Days” showcases a unique musical breakdown near the end of the track likely designed to get their crowd to go bonkers at their live shows. Somehow all of these musical styles thrown into a blender still sound appealing to the ear and make for a pretty enjoyable listening experience.

Jack goes back and forth from being excited about a promising future into adulthood to lamenting this whole experience on songs such as “Don’t Throw Out My Legos” where he sings, “Can we keep my Legos at home/Cuz I wanna move out/I don’t wanna move on.” The idea of growing up while leaving your childhood behind is daunting for some and impossible for others. Coming to terms with which path you will take is not always entirely under or our control, which can frustrate and complicate the hell out of things.

“The Entertainment’s Here” sounds like a blend of hip-hop in the style of Eminem mixed with the eclectic brand of pop that AJR has cut their teeth to. The middle of the LP lost a little bit of the strong momentum established in the early stages of the record, and the track mentioned above sounds a bit out of place. Other songs such as “Karma” pick the tempo back up and get the album back on its course. Jack sings, “I’ve been so good/I’ve been working my ass off/I’ve been so good, yet I’m so lonely and stressed out/I’ve been so good this year,” almost as if he is waiting for the big payoff to his good deeds that may or may not be coming. Being in a constant state of flux is disheartening for most and raises our anxiety levels to the highest degree.

“Wow, I’m Not Crazy” is a song about realizing that many people have the same fears, doubts, and thoughts as yourself, and that’s okay. AJR makes it apparent that they are with their fans to figure it all out together. Lyrics such as “You’re just like me” vindicate Jack’s journey of finding a commonality in his quest for purpose in life.

“Dear Winter” on the other hand is a tender ballad to his future daughter. The only problem is, Jack mentions that he hasn’t met his daughter’s mom yet. It’s a clever turn of events and still comes across as a nice moment on the record that mostly features complex song structures and samples. This song is just an acoustic guitar, bass, and vocals that allows for a moment to catch our breath and reflect on all the events that transpired before this. Jack wears his heart on his sleeve on the closing moments of the song when he sings, “Dear Winter, I’m looking for your mom/I gotta find a girl that doesn’t mind I’m inside my head a lot/Winter, it won’t be too long/But first I just gotta find your mom.” It’s a clever timestamp on his thoughts at that point in his life and his excitement towards being a father at some point.

Overall, AJR has done a good job of capturing many of the same thoughts we all have towards the process of growing up in an eclectic-styled album that is lyrically cohesive. The album closer summed up my feelings on AJR by stating, “We can’t wait to see what you do next.”