Release Date: Sep 22, 2014
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Alt-J's 2012 debut, An Awesome Wave, is one of the great modern indie success stories. The now-trademark unconventional and accessible songs took both the independent and the mainstream music worlds by storm, catapulting the band from the blogosphere to three Brit Award nominations and a Mercury Music Prize. Everything from the band's computer keyboard-referencing name to Illuminati connotations has generated a cult fandom that few bands ever manage to achieve, quenching the music world's thirst for something truly new in the process.
When Alt-J broke out of Leeds, England, in 2012, they scored a coup many U.K. acts dream of but few attain. Not big sales or coveted awards (though they did fine in both regards) – they got dubbed a "New Radiohead," following in the steps of titans like Coldplay and Muse. For young British art-rockers, that's pretty much the equivalent of dating a model and playing center mid for Chelsea.
The 2012 Mercury Prize winners begin their sophomore outing with the subversively titled "Intro," a four-and-a-half-minute highlight reel of what's to come that pairs the monastic chanting that prefaced An Awesome Wave's first single, "Fitzpleasure," with a pastiche of new age and worldbeat-blasted ambient pop that suggests Mogwai by way of Peter Gabriel's Real World studios circa 1990 -- it's both planetarium laser light show and art installation ready. The muted yet equally heady "Arrival in Nara," all fingerpicked electric guitar and diffusive synths, and its more muscular yet no less monkish second half, "Nara," do little to rein in the holistic atmosphere that's so decisively laid out in the remarkably potent This Is All Yours' opening moments, which makes the arrival of the punchy, carnally minded "Every Other Freckle" and the meaty, Anglo-Motown thump of "Left Hand Free" so thrilling, but hardly unexpected. After all, this is a band that proved with its debut that it can go from icy, distant, and often excruciatingly beautiful to downright feral at the crack of a snare drum (or pots and pans, as the group's humble, dorm room beginnings often required), and This Is All Yours does little to tarnish their reputation as choirboys with dark passengers.
Two years after carrying off the Mercury Music prize for An Awesome Wave, alt-J aren’t exactly pandering to the needs of an unexpected mainstream audience. Minus departed bassist Gwil Sainsbury, their second album exhibits the playful adventure Radiohead didn’t exhibit until their fourth, Kid A. Chiming bells and oriental flutes nestle alongside songs constructed from banks of vocal samples, songs about a Japanese city (Nara) where deer roam, a Miley Cyrus sample and Clangers-type electro giggles.
The average indie rock band doesn't focus on vocals nearly as much as alt-J. The first song on their second album is a complex, gorgeous experiment in vocal harmony and counterpoint, largely wordless (or with indecipherable lyrics), with slowly building soft synths and sparse drums. Later on, the Celtic-tinged Warm Foothills has utterly unexpected girl/boy vocal trade-offs.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Alt-J's follow up to 2012's An Awesome Wave peels back much of their debut's bombast and paints instead a commercial, folksy map shot through with images of sex, power and the countryside. The group's lauded debut managed to combine irrepressibly nerdy electronica with a lyrical tenaciousness akin to punk.
Alt-J are sitting comfy on cloud cuckoo. They landed here being weird, strange enough to stand out in a busy crowd with their curious ‘An Awesome Wave’ debut. Yet despite the oddities, something stuck with that record. Joe Newman’s delivery gave simple hooks a fanciful leader. It landed the ….
Alt-J were born of the internet age; they also encapsulated it. Creeping out of their Leeds University accommodation in 2007 with their un-Googleable symbol name, they sang of maths and new dimensions. By initially obscuring their faces in every press photograph, they made sure that their image was just as complex as their songs. Their Mercury Prize-winning 2012 debut ‘An Awesome Wave’ triumphed, though, because it picked up the melody ball that Radiohead had tossed aside.
We’re trying to choose our words carefully here, because we’re almost tempted to write “profound” while describing an alt-J album. Who’da’ thunk? Well, it sounds as though that’s at least what they’re aspiring to here on their second album. Depending on which circles you deal in for your arty/indie credibility, this Leeds-born trio (formerly a quartet) had proved pretty polarizing when they broke in 2012.
With the sprawling This Is All Yours, Alt-J keeps one foot firmly rooted in the endearing quagmire of melodic prog that defined their 2012 debut, An Awesome Wave, while at the same time constructing songs with a baroque precision that lends the band's sonic elements more room to breathe than ever before. The Leeds trio's newly focused approach yields a moment of arresting choral opulence on “Intro,” where countless layers of initially trivial vocals build atop each other like a musical Jenga tower. Elsewhere, singer Joe Newman's seductive warblings snake their way through a synthesized labyrinth of foreboding buzz on the crisply paced “Every Other Freckle,” while album highlights “Hunger of the Pine” and “Bloodflood, Pt.
Alt-J both do and don’t care what the listening public thinks on blithely-titled second album, This Is All Yours. With the success of first record, An Awesome Wave—a weird and impressive collection of trippy, modern-baroque pop songs—Alt-J finds itself in the unique and liminal confines of a band now expected to do certain things. Worse, they are expected to do certain unexpected things—the pleasantness of An Awesome Wave lying, at least partially, in its almost weirdness.
Coming just weeks after the nominations for the 2014 Mercury Prize were announced, it seems highly appropriate that the winners of the award two years previously should decide to release their follow-up now. Alt-J’s debut An Awesome Wave beat off strong competition that year from the likes of Jessie Ware, Plan B and Field Music, with their intricate web of sparkling melodies, crunching synths and infectious vocal harmonies setting them apart. The album was perfected over five years by the four Leeds University graduates and from listening to An Awesome Wave it was easy to understand the effort that had gone into its creation.
Alternative radio has always had a soft spot for the oddball, for the weird, for the kids that just don’t fit in with the rest of the class. It was a place for Robert Smith and black fingernails, for white rappers like the Beastie Boys, for acts as singular as Moby and Radiohead. Even more recently, the biggest acts to emerge from the format, from Muse to the Killers to Imagine Dragons, all have their distinct quirks.
alt-JThis Is All Yours(Canvasback/ATL)Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars If you want to see a band that isn’t enjoying themselves, look up alt-J’s September 4th appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on YouTube. Performing “Left Hand Free,” the second single off their sophomore release, This is All Yours, the Leeds group looks utterly disinterested, turning in a uncharacteristically tepid performance of the most atypically extroverted song they’ve ever written. Reportedly written as a half-serious goof after their label, Atlantic-subsidiary Canvasback, balked at the album’s lack of an obvious radio single, the garage-blues sing-along crackles with an uninhibited joyfulness on the record.
A certain soupçon of coherence could be considered requisite if one wishes to pull of any kind of complicated endeavor—from canal building to song crafting—and have said endeavor be received in the finest possible manner; apply far too little of that precious lucidity, and one can end up at Finnigan’s Wake, whose place in the literary canon is cemented, paradoxically, in how un-readable it is (brief aside: I had an English major ex-girlfriend who was fond of reciting, in her non-rhotic Australian manner, an anecdote wherein Joyce’s mother supposedly said that, while she loved her James dearly, she did wish he’d write a book people could read). Apply too much, and you arrive at The Goldfinch, with James Wood bearing down on you, eyeteeth flashing through blood-foam and eyes like white phosphorous, to declare the yearning grasp at immortality mere pap, unsuitable even for a wasp’s nest. Strike the balance, and you have yourself a Lolita, Nabokov’s paphian masterpiece.
Judging from Alt-J's 2012 debut An Awesome Wave, here are the minimum requirements to earn the "next Radiohead" tag: be a British band that likes guitars and computers. And yet, with few other groups seeking to fill the hungry post-The King of Limbs void, it was enough to convince the Mercury Prize committee and stateside radio programmers. Even though that record's gawky, akimbo singles recalled Thom Yorke’s “Lotus Flower” dance more than his actual music, it’s been a decade since Yorke and his team had a song that hit the American charts with the impact of “Breezeblocks” and “Tessellate”.
Blah blah blah Mercury Prize blah blah blah prog-folk-lite blah blah new Gomez blah blah does anyone remember dEUS blah blah actually quite good. Let’s be honest, some reviews are hard to read and even harder to write because of all the received opinions you can’t tune out. Two years ago, Alt-J did indeed have the notorious ‘albatross hung around their neck’ of the Mercury (pace Damon Albarn), but since three-quarters of previous winners have found it no hindrance at all to their career, perhaps the snarking about the 'Mercury curse' is kneejerk anti-corporate sentiment, and we might (dare I say it?!) consider the award to be an actual mark of merit.
Alt-J This Is All Yours (Infectious) Alt-J established its bizarre blend of freak-folk electronics, ambient soundscaping, and scruffed-up rock with acclaimed 2012 debut An Awesome Wave, but This Is All Yours pushes the boundaries even further. Opening with pulsing chant "Introm," the UK quartet descends into a dream world where English folk slides against French poets and Miley Cyrus, whose "4X4" they manage to suavely incorporate on "Hunger of the Pine. " Joe Newman's thrilling, disjointed vocal trill guides the trip, Fleet Foxes lost in Wonderland on dual tracks "Arrival in Nara" and "Nara," and gritty, contorting yelps of "Every Other Freckle.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK Honestly, I have no idea what to make of Alt-J. One minute they’ll build a slick pop groove that’s identifiably theirs, the next they play into every archetype that you’d expect from a band that’s trying to market itself as both eccentric and populist. They make an effort to be weird, but self-impose a cap on that weirdness, thus ensuring they’ll never alienate a fan.