Man. Where to start...I guess you could say they're indie pop, but that doesn't really cover it.
AJR is a band of three brothers, Adam, Jack, and Ryan. They started by making cover songs together in their apartment with a few acoustic instruments. Then in 2014 they broke out with their song I'm Ready. It was this kind of casual, flirtatious feel that was extremely popular in the early 2010s, but it was still weird and unique enough to really stand out. I mean, lead in for chorus was Spongebob from Nickelodeon repeatedly chanting "I'm Ready," It was fantastic.
What makes AJR shine is that they don't just try to write crowd pleasers. Their songs are about growing up or feeling angry for a second or worrying about lego sets. They very rarely write love songs. They write about real life circumstances. Their song Netflix Trip, for example, is about how certain episodes of The Office bring back childhood memories, and repeatedly asks "who am I to tell me who I am?" They focus down on small, almost insignificant things, and then write songs that actually make you feel...and think.
In 2017 they released an album called The Click and that's where things really got going for them. The most popular songs on the album were the party songs, like Weak, for example. But they had some truly epic songs. Turning Out is one of the group's few love songs, and it's barely about falling in love. It's more about growing up and realizing that falling in love is a terrifying part of that. It has one of the cutest music videos I've ever seen. Truly a wonderful song and one of the highlights of the album. On top of that, it has songs like Three-Thirty, which talks about putting yourself out there in a world where people struggle to keep their attention on something for more than a few minutes. Or Come Hang Out, which is about how hard it is to sacrifice for success and if it's even worth it at all, but still feels like a party song. They've since released two more albums, Neotheater in 2019 and OK Orchestra 2021, along with several singles, all of which have been quite successful.
What makes AJR so great is that they hit a lot of what it is to be a teen and young adult. They constantly capture really complicated feelings in just a few short lines. "I ain't happy yet, but I'm way less sad." They write about partying and having fun, sure. I mean, Burn the House Down, and Bang are two of their most popular songs. But they also write about how it feels to be a kid experiencing his parent's divorce. They write about looking for a spouse and having no idea what to do. There's Don't Throw Out My Legos which, despite the name, hits really hard. They have a song called Joe where the singer remembers how he just wanted Joe to tell him he was cool in middle school. And then they have The Green and the Town, (my personal favorite of theirs) which captures the entirety of a fantastical fairytale in a five minute song. They hit a grand range of human emotions and experience. They've stayed weird for sure, but they rarely miss. Their songs are fantastic.
A few things to note about AJR. They do swear. The songs aren't generally riddled with cuss words, but they don't necessarily hold back either. They say "hell" in most of their songs, and drop the f-bomb a few times per album. By today's standards, they're quite tame but it's still worth noting. They also reference drug use and drinking with some frequency- usually about using those as a way to hide from feelings or as a way to pretend to be someone else; and rarely, if ever, celebrate them outright. Generally the more "adult" aspect of their music is how they don't shy away from hard-hitting subject matter. They are certainly worth the listen, and are among some of the best up-and-coming bands of the last fifteen years.