Now Showing Neotheater


Emily Jordan, Feature Editor

Indie pop band AJR recently released their third studio album- Neotheater- and challenged an entire genre of music. The album was released in April, 2019, and quickly gained attention. The track tells a coming of age story- following a theme of a theatrical performance. AJR is an acronym for the band members names- three brothers named Adam, Jack, and Ryan. The trio have been around since 2005, mixing electronic music with many different styles and sounds- and Neotheater definitely meets the band’s aesthetic.

I listened to this album on a long, 2-hour car drive, which I can tell you is the best way possible. The album invites all sorts of nostalgia, and doesn’t hesitate to hit you where it hurts.

The first song on the track is Next Up Forever. If I’m going to be honest, the immediate church-choir vocals were off-setting. It contrasted well, however, with AJR’s style of music and set up the idea of a literal “neo-theater.” The lyrics set up an idea of ‘dream big, kid, you’re going to turn out great.’ The beat picks up quickly, and sets you into a classic AJR riff preceding an entirely new sound.

Once Adam’s vocals start- “I’m kinda scared to drop this album, let’s push it back another week, I wanna be next up forever, find a way to never hit my peak” the story begins. The band here tells a story of the bittersweetness of fame, as well as knowing that the fame is temporary. We’re introduced to the main theme of growing up- “My God, are you growing without me?” and “Cause I don’t know what’s coming next, I know I gotta grow up some time, but I don’t think I’m ready yet.”

Adam’s vocals introduce us and continue.Then the choir returns before the song ends. Without the album in its entirety, the song doesn’t work as well, so it’s not something you can exactly sing in the shower or blast from your car speakers. It doesn’t serve pop music’s demand, but it does serve the purpose it was made for well. The song introduces you, nonetheless, and gives you an idea of what the album is going to be like. The song works alone, but it’s so much better in context.

Next, Birthday Party, is one of the three stand-alone songs released before the album. The song starts with birth- as the album’s theme is growing up- with “This hospital’s got lots of crying kids, a minute ago, I did not exist.” I definitely enjoy this song as a stand alone and in context to the album.

It portrays a message of childhood innocence- thinking about how life is going to be perfect. There’s a strong sense of irony and cruel twists of fate masked by ignorance- “I bet our parents always stay in love…..I bet I’ll never outgrow all my friends, I bet I’ll see a female president.” The beat is fun, despite the song having such strong sarcasm.

The next song- 100 Bad Days– was released alone before the album came out. I am very biased- I love this song. It’s hopefulness, the vocals, the beats, the message- it resonates with the kind of music I enjoy. I haven’t much to say besides this song has become a quick favorite.

The way the different vocals work with each other, the very classic AJR sound, it all makes for a very good song. In context to the album, this song makes the rest of the album hit that much harder as the themes clash.

Don’t Throw Out My Legos, wow, this song hits close to home. The strong sense of nostalgia and fear, the loss of childhood toys (rest in peace, my Pokémon figures,) seriously appeals to my fear of growing up- “What If I can’t let go, what if I come back home?” as the ‘protagonist’ of our story first leaves his parents’ nest. “Cause I wanna move out, I don’t wanna move on,” all leaves a vibe of not wanting to let go of your childhood, not wanting to truly grow up. This is the song that made me know I was going to enjoy this album, the song that made me recommend this to my older brother (whose facing growing up himself, as a new college grad.) Break My Face is the fifth song in the album’s lineup, with a tad of humor backed by a fun, carefree theme. I haven’t got much to say about this song- I enjoyed it and that’s about it. There is a call back lyric to Birthday Party in Break My Face, which I liked, but there’s nothing particularly special about this song to me.

For long-term AJR fans, you probably remember the song Turning Out from a few years back. If you aren’t, the simple premise is that it’s a romantic type song with themes of not growing up. AJR calls back to this song in Neotheater with Turning Out Pt. ii: a somber “breakup” song. “You said you loved me, is that what I loved?….I think I probably wasn’t in love with you, I think I probably loved the idea of you.” This is a painfully real song and it captures that feeling well. “I said it back to you cuz you said it first,” with feelings of guilt and a sad, slow, beat, all while calling back to the first Turning Out and the album’s theme- “Is this all that life’s about? Tryna love how you turn out, I don’t love it much at all.” This is where the album takes a 180 and quickly spirals into a darker place as the songs become more and more about mental struggle. Turning Out Pt. ii branches the leap well, all while telling a meaningful story.

Since Neotheater is a story-based album, I won’t spoil the second half for new listeners. I can say that the second part of the album is absolutely beautiful. The songs sound good. Their hard work is evident- and the struggle our “protagonist” goes through is incredibly well done.

It’s real and raw and it hurts. The story Neotheater tells is one we all can relate to- done in a beautiful, fun, and well-connected way. The songs are intertwined by lyrics, sound, and melodies. This album gave me chills multiple times, and the music itself compliments everything incredibly. I can’t recommend this album more. Of course, my opinion isn’t objective, but this album is beautiful and it’s become a quick favorite. 5\5.