AJR, A New York City indie-pop band of brothers, released the album “Neotheater” on April 26 and it sounds like it came directly out of a Disney movie.
With a fifth album in the books, one would think Cage the Elephant would be in danger of losing their authentic sound and gritty lyrics, but the American alternative rock band is still going strong with “Social Cues,” harkening back to their older hits but exploring their sound enough for the installment to be fresh. The band’s latest tracks hit streaming services last Friday after the release of singles “Ready to Let Go,” “House of Glass,” “Night Running” and “Goodbye” in January and March.
The album was conceived in the wake of frontrunner Matt Shultz’s divorce, prompting a more exploratory sound combining grunge rock, psychedelic pop and indie alternative in their 13 tracks. With inspiration from The Black Keys, MGMT, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and even the Cure, the range of inspiring sounds make the tracks diverse in both lyrics and instrumentals.
The opener, “Broken Boy,” bring the tempo up with a space-pop track, glamorous with a modern twist, before melding into a more psychedelic vibe with the title track. One of the most pop-influenced songs is the collaboration with Beck on “Night Running.”
“I’ll be in the backroom, tell me when it’s over,” Shultz sings on “Social Cues.” “I don’t know if I can play this part much longer,” which aptly represents the band’s shift in sound, which seems more like an evolution than an unwelcome change.
Producer John Hill, who has worked with Eminem, Rihanna and Portugal. The Man, infuses the pop inspiration with the band’s typical cynical dark sound on tracks like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.”
“Ready to Let Go” and sister track “Dance Dance” pull on their grunge-rock roots but seemingly more mature with Shultz’s lyrics relating to his recent divorce.
“The sun goes went down over Pompeii, on both sides the vow was broken,” Shultz sings.
From the aforementioned pop vibes of “Night Running” to the “The War is Over” and “What I’m Becoming,” with more somber tones, the range of the album still melds together into one cohesive album that takes a journey that the band has been long overdue to make. “Love’s the Only Way” showcases a softer sound with string instrumental and rhythmic guitar to match the regretful tones of Shultz’s lyrics. It just shows their maturity in exploring their sound rather than stumbling about in their genre.
The instrumentals in the songs equally express the same energy of the album, with guitarist Brad Shultz matching the staccato bursts in vocals with strong power chords as bassist Daniel Tichenor anchors with an intense bassline and drummer Jared Champion keeps tempo.
It’s not perfect, but there’s not much disappointment with the band’s latest release. There are catchy choruses, the band’s characteristic quirky lyrics and a well-rounded sound that is both provocative and fresh, yet still reminiscent of the band. More than a few of the tracks will be added to my playlist, for sure.
Hollie Lao is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.
I wasn’t planning on reviewing any albums this semester, since I’m abroad in Prague. While music may be providing the soundtrack for the commutes, night walks and pregames I’ve had in the past few months, I didn’t feel the need to message back across the pond and ask if I could pepper in a review into the daily newspaper.
After teasing fans in typical The 1975 fashion with months of cryptic Instagram posts, the band’s release of the first part of their “Music for Cars” era has proven to be their most purposeful and masterful work, demonstrating a prowess of balancing their typical edgy melancholy sound with an underlying theme to the album.