In this day and age, the Internet has created a broad spectrum of music. Anyone can put up a song on the Internet for the listening public to devour. However, the days of streaming services have established niches, and musical tastes are more divided than ever. Whether it’s Electronic Dance Music, Sad-Folk Guitar-Strumming, or Trip-Hop, few bands are as spread across the board as alt-J. The British band offers a great balance of genre-hopping for our sporadic listening tastes. They have a gift constructing eclectic electronic-folk with an intellectual delivery that can still be processed by the simplest of radio listeners.
The critically acclaimed band has returned with their second album, This Is All Yours, which was released last Tuesday, September 23. The three-piece’s freshman album, An Awesome Wave, took home the Mercury Prize in 2012, an award which would be the British equivalent of our Grammys (if the Grammys only went to one album for the whole year).
The band is made up of singer/guitarist Joe Newman, multi-instrumentalist Gus Unger-Hamilton, and drummer Thom Green. This record was recorded after the departure of their lead guitarist Gwil Sainsbury, but the line-up change refused to hold the band back. Known for their radio hits such as “Breezeblocks” and “Fitzpleasure,” alt-J creates intricate film-coated music often layered with multiple instrumental voices and vocal harmonies. Their tunes contain elements of both folk and electronica, fitting for our digital internet age.
This Is All Yours basically picks up where An Awesome Wave left off, in a sweaty haze of shuffling drums and scratching guitars. This time around, they have expanded their sound to reflect more of the “anthemic rock band” structure. They replaced the breezy synths and drum machines for horn sections and focused driving rhythms. “The Gospel of John Hurt” (a reference to the actor who played the alien host in the film Alien) plays out as a future set closer with its bombastic trumpets sounding like a heart exploding in the chest from whence it came.
alt-J has always been a mysterious band when it came to song structure. They have evolved past the sporadic eccentrics to include more flow in their songs. Songs such as the left-turn blues-rock jam “Left Hand Free” craft a different visual of the band. alt-J’s classic signature remains true however: spontaneously cut out the instruments for a harmonic interlude before returning with the beat dropped a few seconds later (see “Bloodflood pt. II”, the musical sequel to “Bloodflood” off of the first record). Also, few bands can get away with a minute-long flute solo as the turning point of the album (“Garden Of England”).
The first single from the album, “Hunger of the Pine,” tells the relatable story of lusting for another through a sweeping pound before going down on the slow jam beat. The song samples the “I’m a female rebel” hook from Miley Cyrus’s song “4×4” to illustrate the female counterpoint to singer Joe Newman’s pained vocal.
Thematically, This Is All Yours focuses on a musical journey to and from Nara, a place in Japan where the deer are said to roam free through the city. This begins with the slow burn of “Arrival in Nara” and ends with album closer “Leaving Nara,” with tales of both lost love and freedom told in and inbetween. Lyrically, alt-J favors an inspiring flow of consciousness, using ridiculous similes such as “I’m gonna roll around you like a cat rolls around saw dusted patios” from their chanting sprawl, “Every Other Freckle”.
alt-J’s influences ring true; originally dubbed the “new Radiohead” by critics, Newman’s unique voice echoes Thom Yorke in its originality and free-flowing delivery. Musically, alt-J’s electronics are reminiscent of Radiohead’s post-electronic era as well. Songs such as the folk-tinged “Warm Foothills” create a similar environment to the one Justin Vernon birthed in Wisconsin with Bon Iver. However, the band produces a sound that is genuinely their own; which gives them the credit they deserve.
The title of the record, This Is All Yours, is literal. alt-J give themselves to us in an album of pure sincerity. Their modern spin on indie rock pokes at the industry while embracing it at the same time. The band has delivered a powerful follow-up to their award winning debut and proves they have the guts to create interesting music with feeling, a quality that is rare in bands these days. By creating complex soundscapes, alt-J offers fans simple music through an intelligent lens. They have shown the drive to keep producing terrific records, and let’s hope they do.
Tyler Asay is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at TA791988@wcupa.edu.