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.”

Top Tracks:

The Entertainment’s Here

Birthday Party

100 Bad Days

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Featured Image: AXS

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