by Olivia Weinzapfel
Neotheater, the third full-length album from AJR, provides its audience with equal doses of grand symphonic energy and lyrical introspective dread. Like their other albums, the themes focus on self-reflection, but Neotheater revolves mainly around growing up and going through the trials and tribulations of young adulthood. They’ve outdone themselves yet again with their signature beats, unconventional themes, and hard-hitting lyrics. This album is light-hearted in its sound and heavy in its meaning. It’s pleasing not only to ears but also to the maturing conscious, as the music helps us dance through the troubles many of us are facing as we get older.
AJR’s contortion of electro-pop is hard to get tired of, and Neotheater definitely keeps that trademark alive and well. With this album, AJR puts a new twist on their arrangements; this time they lean a little harder towards orchestral sounds. Trumpets, stringed instruments, and more piano sneak their way into the upbeat pops that define AJR’s sound. They infuse these two styles perfectly, and a great track to exemplify this is the very first one, “Next Up Forever.” The compositions in this album are modern on a surface level but have very musical-like undertones. The theater-like music clashes with their contemporary pop, which almost directly defines Neotheater (neo meaning new, and theater meaning… well… theater).
Showcasing every part of growing up that sucks
An aspect of this album that can’t be praised enough is the brilliant approaches to eccentric topics. One example of an obscure angle taken to a topic is the second track, “Birthday Party,” which is told in the perspective of a newborn baby. The lead singer, Ryan Met, takes on the voice role of the newborn and delivers the lyrics in first-person narrative. As a hypothetical infant, he sings and fantasizes about all parts of life, including love, society, friendships, and even a few political matters in a very positive light. “I bet it’s always gonna stay this fun/I bet it’s easy stayin’ away from drugs/I bet our parents always stay in love,” is just one of many verses that ring out and induce our sympathy toward that theoretical baby, who has no idea that life isn’t always that great and simple. “Birthday Party” is a great musical interpretation of the phrase “ignorance is bliss.” It’s a perfectly ironic piece, given that a new life brought into the world is so innocent and pure, clueless of the frustrations of life that are really in store.
For those of us packing up, moving out and moving away from the houses we grew up in, we know the absolute heartbreak that comes with throwing out things that hold sentimental value, specifically old toys. AJR takes this type of heartbreak and turns it into a metaphorical basis for the song, “Don’t Throw Out My Legos.” The lyrics, “Oh no/don’t throw out my Legos/what if I can’t let go/what if I come back home/can we keep my Legos at home/ ‘cause I wanna move out/I don’t wanna move on,” really tug on those heartstrings when you’re facing the nostalgic ache that coexists with leaving the nest.
“The Entertainment’s Here” is arguably the catchiest and, at the same time, most existentially distressing song on the album. The arrangements and beats easily catch your attention, and then the vocals hit you with lyrics like, “but recently I’m thinkin’ bout my purpose on Earth/but I don’t wanna think about my purpose no more/because I may come up short/and I hate bein’ bored.” This song is jam-packed with similar lyrics and it does a phenomenal job at leaving you with an abysmal pit in your stomach. The song in its entirety talks about subconsciously filling your days with distractions to deter you from thinking about any bigger existential pictures. It’s pretty heavy stuff for anyone that’s growing up and trying to find their purpose in life.
These are just a few of many songs that encase unorthodox perspectives and lyrics for the overall theme. Neotheater also manages to cover the world of love as you grow up, like in the tracks “Turning Out Pt. ii,” “Wow, I’m Not Crazy,” and “Dear Winter.” With all these songs together, the entire album tells a remarkable story of self-realization.
A collective work characterizes a journey
Neotheater is one of those albums that is really meant to be listened to from beginning to end, as a full body of work. Every song on its own is incredible as a single, but as a full-length album, the tracks in their set order tell an introspective story. It outlines a melodramatic journey that travels through expectation, hope, downfall, moving on, self-reflection, love, and everything in between. In a sense, it’s almost like listening to a subjective musical, where a character sings and dances through a production centered around individual, personal growth.
The extravagant music of Neotheater accompanies the inner turmoil that many of us can relate to as we embark on our own journey through life. It’s a perfect album for those of us who identify as adult children who need to be told that our thoughts and feelings are normal, and everything will turn out alright. The curtain falls as this album ends on the perfect note, “Congratulations on your bit of success/welcome to the Neotheater/we can’t wait to see what you do next.”
The Entertainment’s Here
100 Bad Days
Recommended if you like:
Young the Giant
Featured Image: AXS
In their third album, ‘Neotheater', AJR puts on a production that follows a journey of growing up and self-reflection. Each song has a different approach to topics that are ingenious and completely unconventional, and when listened to from beginning to end, ‘Neotheater’ tells a subjective coming of age story. The lyrics and themes are accompanied by electro-pop and orchestral sounds that give the album its essence of melodramatic musical theater. It’s a perfect album for dancing through any trouble that lies on the path to adulthood.