As of May 8, 2019, AJR’s new album “Neotheater” has been ranked as the #1 alternative album on The Rock Charts after coming in at a #8 overall debut. Despite this fame, AJR started out with quite the humble beginning, with its roots go back to the viral YouTube video of their single “I’m Ready.” However, the trio brother band has come a long way from cheap budget YouTube music videos, as “Neotheater” is by far AJR’s most complex and well-produced album by far.
Regarding the album itself, many fans will recognize AJR’s classic synthesized jazz influence, all tied back to new age hip hop; however, what separates this album from the others is the 1940s close choir harmonies. The band took it upon themselves to research 1940s choirs and authentically orchestrate that sound into this album. By adding such a distinctive and new sound for the band, despite renovating an old musical practice, the band reflects on the very themes of the album itself: growing up, nostalgia and criticism of the music industry itself.
In “Neotheater,” it’s all about song order. Throughout the albums entirety, it progressively loses the sense of childhood naivety, becoming more jaded with each song. It’s very much what you’d imagine how a soundtrack from childhood to adulthood would sound. As the album progresses, so does the complexity and content of each song. At the beginning of the album, songs such as “Next Up Forever” and “Birthday Party” capture childhood innocence and the consequences of ignorance. These songs set the tone for future social commentary in the album, which directly references these two songs.
Later on in the album, the tracks “Turning Out Pt ii” and “Don’t Throw Out My Legos” cover the limbo one might face during a period of coming of age, whether it be adolescence or adulthood. These two songs specifically cover subtopics such as recognizing that your first love might not have been love, realizing you don’t know who you are, and living independently as an adult. Eventually, the album shifts during the song “The Entertainment’s Here”. This track shifts the perspective to what it’s like breaking into the music industry as a young adult, and the misconceptions brought with it. Through this track, and the song “Beats”, AJR covers concepts such as money and sponsorship being the equivalent to success in the music industry.
Lastly, the album closes and makes its way full circle with the track “Finale”. In this song, AJR brings back the close harmony choir influence, and for a longer duration, referencing the opening track “Next Up Forever”. This final song of the album encompses every aspect of AJR’s sound, and puts it in such a way that it compresses the coming of age feel from the entire album in just one song. After analysing this musical technique, it seems as though the compression of styles is representative of growing up, and how it’s over in the blink of an eye.
“Neotheater” is an incredibly groundbreaking album, not only for AJR, but for the alternative genre as a whole. If you enjoy any of the musical elements mentioned in this album, then I highly recommend giving it a listen.