Someone much wiser than I, once said, ‘whoever says that they don’t like alt-J, is either lying, not telling the truth, or they’re just fucking ugly’. I might have misheard their words/adapted that slightly but it’s more or less 100% roughly accurate. Alt-J’s first album, An Awesome Wave played a pivotal role in many-a young person’s journey of enlightenment through the genre of alternative music. It has cemented its place in my heart as one of my favourite albums of all time, without really being able to describe why. It’s just so cool. Their second album This Is All Yours, only sought to confirm my undying love for their music, and as Emma rightly said, it was ‘the perfect example of the “if it ain’t broke then why fix it” ethos.’ Now, here we are three years later, and they have returned to take over my music library this Summer with their latest album, RELAXER. If I loved them before, today I glorify them on the same level as the Chili Peppers. After three spectacular albums, I am now confident that they can do no wrong.
On RELAXER, although it retains the trademark tribal swagger from their previous albums, they have allowed themselves to explore a slightly different sound. Probably fairly confident that people love them (if people are like me), so why not push the boat out? Test the waters. Many of the songs acquire a more folky ambiance, combined with deep bass sounds that give the album overall a new haunting, majestic feel. 3WW encapsulates this perfectly. The opening lines, ‘There was a wayward lad, / Stepped out one morning’, are sung with all of the pure beauty of young Peregrine Took singing for Denethor (Lord of The Rings reference). The whole song remains fairly stripped back, but by not overdoing it they have given it space to expand in the mind, thus creating an epic folk song on hallucinogens. Adeline and Last Year follow a similar trend, with Marika Hackman’s dulcet tones contributing to the serenity of the latter track.
Obviously, it would be criminal to discuss an alt-J album without showing some appreciation for their ever-intriguing lyrics. They tend to avoid the blatantly ‘relatable’ lyrics, and instead use them to tell of colourful, life-shaping experiences. 3WW and Hit Me Like That Snare have particularly caught people’s eyes (ears?) for standing out lyrically on this album. In 3WW, Newman sings about a sexual experience with girls from the east of England, and the chorus beautifully touches how, in love, words can be said and not meant; ‘Oh these three worn words / Oh, that we whisper / Like the rubbing hands / Of tourists in Verona / I just want to love you in my own language’. Hit Me Like That Snare is a bit more….shall we say…intense? In a deeply sexual way? It’s similar to Fitzpleasure from the band’s first album, where you probably didn’t realise that the first line blares ‘In your snatch fits pleasure, broom-shaped pleasure’. Here we progress from a snatch to being slapped like a snare, being ‘fucking loose’, and ‘happy wizards scissoring’. Hopefully you’re all old enough to understand the innuendos, and this isn’t urban dictionary so I’m not going to spell it out for you. There are kids here. Of course, true to form in their total and utter brilliance, they don’t spell it out for you either, and camouflage meanings under bizarre but rich poetry.
Personal favourites come under the titles of In Cold Blood and alt-J’s daring and mysterious cover of The Animal’s House of The Rising Sun. Less of a cover and more of a reinterpretation, it bears little resemblance to the original, as they recreate a cinematic and quite moving rendition. In Cold Blood, maybe along with Dead Crush, stand apart from the rest of the album, as songs that pay heed to earlier songs like Breezeblocks and Left Hand Free. With their characteristic twangy guitar coming at you with a bit more punch, they’ve got something funky going on that acts as a refreshing transition in the album. In an interview/cool video where they’re making puttanesca, Joe Newman (lead singer) admits that they didn’t focus on the ‘concept’ or the ‘theme’ of the album, but rather focussed on ‘moment by moment’ which then led to the album. An awkward and beautiful album which we wouldn’t have any other way.
I have only tickled the under-chin of this album with my words, as there are hundreds of other crevices and crannies yet to be explored. Thus, I leave you here in alt-J’s more-than-capable hands, to allow yourselves to take the gap year you never had through the glorious lands of this album, in all its infinite variety.
Thank you alt-J,