Review Summary: "Rage. Fury. Irritation. Humiliation." - Squidward Tentacles
My dreams have become increasingly vivid ever since I was young, to the point where I’ve learned to control them. Nightmares have essentially become a thing of the past, but when I lose control of my dream, fear and adrenaline can take the wheel rather quickly. This is especially apparent in the one recurrent dream I can never seem to escape. It begins with me being framed a la Shawshank for a heinous crime that I didn’t commit, but certainly wish I had. I am briskly whisked away to a maximum security prison, where I am briskly frisked by the guards. They chuck me like yesterday’s trash into my new cell, where I discover my cellmate is named Randy Dongtouch, a name he absolutely lives up to. Every second of this horror show of a dream is preferable to the 45 minutes of my life I spent listening to OK Orchestra.
Let’s start with our regularly scheduled mish-mash of every track to follow, “OK Overture”. The AJR brothers have miraculously enlisted the lady from Boards of Canada’s “The Devil Is In The Details” to introduce us to the intended thematic arc of the album, which has absolutely no flow, egregiously misused autotune, and one of the most horrific key changes I’ve ever heard. The lyrics are still terrible, and there’s enough vocal chop to impress the DJ from your 2011 middle school dance who wouldn’t stop playing “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. I’d discuss the themes of the record in depth, but none of them have changed. AJR are adults. Being adults disagrees with them. They would like to be kids again. Here’s a nauseating hook inspired by a nursery rhyme to hammer this theme home even further. Don’t worry, they’ll throw in some MIDI trumpets later as well. They’re just getting warmed up.
Our first real exposure to the tracklist is single “Bummerland”, which hasn’t aged well. That’s to be expected, since it never should have been born. This cut is served up with a heavy dosage of dentist drill synths, a quantized tambourine that plays on literally every single second of the song, and lyrics that do not rhyme (“This month, I got seven haircuts / And now my hair is all gone”). OK Orchestra was released on a major label, in case you were wondering if there is any justice in the world. Other early tracks like “My Play” or “Joe” showcase everything frustrating about AJR. The verse melody in “My Play” is genuinely catchy, but once again the lyrics are served up in baffling non-sequitur format (“Haven’t seen the old house lately / wonder if they found my spaceship”), and the beat somehow manages to sound like I’ve made the ill-advised decision to go clubbing on an Italian gondola. Thankfully, the group listened very carefully and considerately to Anthony Fantano’s criticism that it sounds like their only exposure to the outside world was Disney movies and released a song entitled “Adventure Is Out There”. Not only does this track feature a guitar lead that was lifted directly out of a SpongeBob chase scene, but the AJR brothers somehow manage to up the ante and title a later song “World’s Smallest Violin”.
It’s astonishing how hard this group is trying to be vulnerable in their artistic endeavors, and yet I still feel like I know nothing about them. All the potentially emotional or relatable moments on this record are hidden behind tired cultural references; it’s not quite as disastrous as when the band wrote an entire song about watching The Office, but what is? Every single moment on OK Orchestra that I come close to connecting with is suddenly destroyed in either infuriating or hilarious fashion. The vocal sample on “The Trick” could be genuinely interesting if it weren’t soaked in gallons of vibrato. Both “Bang!” and “Way Less Sad” begin with dull verses that provided me false promise, only to give way to even duller drops. “Adventure Is Out There” begins with the line “I keep losing my socks” and expects me to take it seriously, and the less said about “Humpty Dumpty” the better.
I would at least be able to muster up some respect for OK Orchestra if it were bad in an ambitious way, but it’s not. This is the same Gitmo torture device AJR has released three times already, with the dials on the vocal chop and MIDI horns turned up to twelve instead of the previous eleven. It elicited anger from me in the moments it was going for sadness and hope, and genuine laughter in the moments where AJR attempted to be relatable. If you’ve read up to this point and still want to listen to this album, enter at your own risk. This is the fifth paragraph of the review and I still haven’t even mentioned the Blue Man Group feature that sounds like Crash Bandicoot gaining his invincibility power-up. There’s not much else to say, other than I warned you. I’m going to bed; hopefully I don’t cross paths with Randy Dongtouch tonight.