The first taste from JR JR forthcoming fourth record, “Same Dark Places” follows suit with what the duo does best: hook-dependent melodic pop menageries that feel more clever than sincere. If the duo’s 2015 hit “Gone” was a movie trailer for some generic teenage girl coming of age tale, then that would make “Same Dark Places” an ad for anti-depressant medication, the kind where the black and white shifts to color during the narration of common side-effects ending with cartoon bluebirds landing on the shoulder of some hesitantly happy real-life woman in a cardigan.

There are many masterful elements at play here, however, all of which make it nearly impossible to hate this song (which is what I really want to do.) First, there’s singer Josh Epstein’s thoughtful lyrical cadence. The words swell and bounce in such a way that his inflection alone could be listed in the credits as an instrument. And then, of course, there’s their reoccurring penchant for crafty arrangement and production. The fusion of Andrew Bird vibes (the layering of manic horns and sorrowful strings) meets The Lion King for Sega Genesis (this I can’t explain) meets that “LIVE. LAUGH. LOVE” wall hanging in your parents guest bedroom (okay, I’ll stop) would fool you into believing that JR JR woke up one day with this exact song, as you hear it now, in their heads. The drums feel like an afterthought and the lack of an end-point or clear resolve sink this track into “can’t-get-it-out-of-my-head-but-I-won’t-remember-it-five-years-from-now” territory. Although it was likely intended to be an anthem for swimming against the current, “Same Dark Places” merely treads water.

Let the light in and listen to “Same Dark Places” below:

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]



Few bands can claim that they’re race-car driver approved; Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr was one of them. They got Dale Earnhardt Jr’s attention because, obviously, they used his name. He wrote to Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein in 2011, promising no legal action against the duo and describing himself as a fan. But now, they’ve moved on, and rebranded themselves as JR JR.

Which brings us to their first release under the new name: The self-titled JR JR, a euphoric, smoothly produced pop album. And while my cynical hipster heart hates the idea that anything so anthemic and catchy can be good, it balances its commercial appeal with enough introspective moments that I’m not ashamed it’s been stuck in my head all day.

Take “In The Middle,” for example. It’s an infectious dance track, but with gloomy under tones. “There’s a million ways to die,” they proclaim early in the song. Instead of singing about burning up the dance floor, they’re “standing in the fire,” their indecision rendering them “stuck to the floor.”  Usually, name-based tracks are sappy love (or breakup) songs, but not JR JR‘s “Caroline,” which takes place in a hospital. And though you can imagine a stadium of fans pumping their fists and singing along to the chorus of “No one’s going to live my life for me” and “I don’t want to be you,” the verses reveal a more complicated situation as they ask, “How can I tell if it’s drugs or my feelings now?” and hint at a drastic change of identity. 

Unfortunately, there’s no word yet from Dale Earnhardt Jr on his opinion of the duo’s new name and album; we probably won’t know until it’s released on September 25 via Warner Bros. Records. In the meantime, check out JR JR’s creepy-cool music video for one of the album’s key tracks, “Gone,” where dancers’ legs detach from their owners and run wild.