X Ambassadors experienced some false starts prior to the release of their second album, ORION. The Ithaca, New York, trio had completed a collection of songs before deciding to scrap them and start over, as they thought the soulful, pop-leaning sound they were pursuing took after 2015’s breakthrough album VHS. One of the songs that survived those recordings was 2018’s “Joyful,” a stand-alone single where frontman Sam Harris carries forward the album’s main theme: how to persevere through the darkest of times. Their change of plans was also a blessing in disguise, as it allowed Harris to regain his confidence (and feel like he didn’t have to match the massive success of singles like “Unsteady” and “Renegades”).
The genre-hopping ORION focuses on Harris’ stories, most of which are drawn from life experiences—he shows an appreciation for those who have to hustle every day over a gritty hip-hop groove on “QUICKSAND,” while on “HEY CHILD,” he writes a loving open letter to an old friend over a bluesy, Imagine Dragons-like stomp. He taps into his spiritual side on the organ-led “I DON'T KNOW HOW TO PRAY,” where he questions why bad things happen to good people. “HOLD YOU DOWN” is purposeful and life-affirming, a song about protecting each other that demonstrates how Harris shows his commitment to others over himself.