Review: AJR brings optimism to the omnipresent gloom of 2020 in new single

Cover art courtesy of AJR

By Camille Rasor | Arts & Life Editor

In typical AJR fashion, the band released a new single, “Bummerland,” Monday that somehow, in all the exhausting and emotionally draining chaos that is 2020, finds a glimmer of hope.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to catch a break this year.

It started off really great. I was starting the second semester of my sophomore year here at Baylor, and I had finally found several really good friends here that I felt like really got me. I remember telling my mom that, after four to five years of pretty intense unmanaged chronic illness, a manipulative and traumatic relationship followed by a couple years of loneliness in every sense of the word, I finally felt happy.

A couple weeks after that, the world fell apart. By mid-March, our house was on lockdown in an effort to keep my grandparents safe. A couple weeks after that, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Given that I had just started to feel happy again after years of depression, anxiety and chronic pain, it didn’t take much to push me back down into the spiral of my mental illness. And unfortunately, I fell further than I ever have before.

Now, I’m not here to tell you my sob story. There’s so much more stuff I left out, but that’s not what you’re here for anyway. You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, OK, but what about this music review I clicked on to read?”

I guess I just wanted to include all that as a way of showing just how much of a “Bummerland” I found myself in by the time this song was released. I was definitely ready for a new song that both acknowledged the struggles I was going through while also finding a light at the end of the tunnel.

This optimism is not new for AJR, a band of three twenty-something-year-old brothers from Manhattan. When I began listening to their music in high school, I resonated with the way their music has been able to speak to heavy subjects such as moving out of your childhood home, the far-off possibility of parenthood and giving into vices when maybe we shouldn’t.

In this new single, the music itself is filled with different elements that come together to feel exuberantly joyful. The hornlines and alto harmonies carry the listener through the song while Jack Metzger, the band’s lead singer, sings optimistic lyrics that just make you want to dance.

In a year that has been exhausting and impossible for all of us, this song makes it seem not too bad. After all, when you hit rock bottom, you might as well “give a cheer / ‘Cause you’re only going up from here.”

Is it the most lyrically-complex, Grammy-award-winning, sonically-brilliant record ever put out? No. But it does give me a little boost of joy, and right now, in this year that just won’t quit, that’s more than enough.