By Raena Doty
Arts & Features Editor
As someone rapidly hurtling into her 20s with no signs of slowing down anytime soon, it’s safe to say the prospects of settling down, discovering myself, and navigating the big wide world scare me more than a bit.
“The Maybe Man” by AJR provides no respite from these fears - but it never meant to. This album will make you confront the scary reality of what it means to be human in the contemporary world. It is an album of crescendo but no climax - uncertainty but solidarity.
“Maybe Man,” the first and titular track, makes this apparent. The song is a slowly building crisis of identity. With each verse, the music builds too, and anyone would expect the beat drop at the end to be epic -
But it never comes, and the final verse in the song - before the shift into pandemonium - is delicate, soft, and maybe even unsatisfying.
In an album about wrestling with inherent meaninglessness, it works. The song doesn’t build the way you’d expect, but when does life?
In “OK Orchestra,” AJR’s previous album, I found “OK Overture” too on the nose - it felt like they wrote the entire album then slapped together some melodies they’d already written without doing anything new. This leading song is much better - it stands on its own and sets up everything else perfectly.
Every song after “Maybe Man” is spent exploring the themes of growing up, rejecting ideals passed on without critical thought, and making sense of a senseless world.
“Inertia” speaks to an aspect of the modern world I haven’t seen explored - that is, the way stagnation often looks like motion.
It’s so easy to look at someone who lives a busy life and assume they must be fulfilled, but sometimes it’s all inertia - sometimes all someone wants is to break away.
“Steve’s Going to London” covers a topic particularly familiar to me as a college student - watching your peers go through radically different stages of life.
When one of your friends is going to London and another one is sleeping on his best friend’s lawn, what does that say about where you’re supposed to be in life?
Like the album as a whole, the song gives no answers, but I don’t think there are any answers to be found - and that’s OK.
If there was any disappointment in this album, it was “Turning Out Pt. iii.” On its own, it’s a very good song, and it fits into the context of the album well, but as the title indicates, it’s the third part in a trilogy.
The song feels to me a bit like a non sequitur to its predecessors. “Turning Out Pt. ii” left off at a moment of realization and promise, if a scary one that requires a breakup, so why is the singer now proposing?
“Pt. iii” is musically beautiful - soft and earnest in a way only a not-quite-love song could be - and the way the singer struggles with balancing contradictory expectations fits right into the album at large.
But I’m not satisfied with this song as an ending to the “Turning Out” series, and I can only hope AJR continues it in the future.
The album stands strong, though. As always, AJR’s experimental sounds and blended use of instrumentals and vocals, some very traditional and some very edited, keep every song fresh.
As someone rapidly hurtling into her 20s with no signs of slowing down anytime soon, this album terrified me - but it also let me know I’m not alone.
Other people are afraid of the job market, the housing market, the dating market.
Other people are just bouncing around from place to place, task to task, looking for something that means anything and afraid they’ll pass it by when they find it.
Other people feel the urge to abandon it all and give up - because what does it matter, anyway?
But the album is a reminder that even when it’s scary and uncertain, life can be beautiful, love can happen, and anyone can find meaning where it may not seem to exist.
I got from this album what AJR said very succinctly in “2085,” the final song - a reminder that “I’d hate to have to die ’fore I get my head together.”