A few months ago, I did a Band Appreciation Friday on English alternative/experimental band Alt-J, where I reviewed their debut album An Awesome Wave. That post was before the release of their sophomore album, This is All Yours, however, which deserves a review all it’s own.
When I heard “Hunger of the Pine” for the first time a month or so ago, I could hear the vast difference in Alt-J’s sound. This was not at all surprising, however, considering that bassist Gwil Sainsbury had left the band a couple months prior. I could tell the band had slowly started to embrace the darker, more evocative sides of their experimental music, and that theory only grew stronger when their single “Every Other Freckle” was released. The instrumentals are heavier and deeper than their last album, or it was as if they borrowed the bass line for “Fitzpleasure” for all of their fast-paced tracks. This wasn’t a problem for me, however, considering I enjoy that sort of change. “Intro” sounds like it could go hand in hand with “Intro” from An Awesome Wave, and it’s similarities brought a smirk of appreciation to my face when I first heard it. However, where the album goes a bit askew is the long, slow tracks that take up the first and last parts of the album. These chronological tracks, including “Arrival in Nara,” “Garden of England” and “Leaving Nara” could be mistaken for instrumentals, considering you only really hear real vocals a portion of the time or not at all. Also, “Left Hand Free,” their most popular single, was no doubt a parody for something. The western swing style of that track was so bizarre and didn’t match anything the band had done before. While it is catchy, I was annoyed when I kept hearing it on the radio, when there were so many other tracks from them to choose from.
Critiques aside, there are moments where I felt the same sort of infatuation that I felt with Alt-J’s debut. Joe Newman has not skimped on his songwriting, something that I was grateful for. I thrived on his words and the odd, yet sensual ways they were placed together, touching on everything from love and lack thereof. Yes, there were some strange lyrics, but that’s what makes the band unique and wonderful. Tracks like “Bloodflood pt. II,” “Nara,” and “Warm Foothills” highlight those familiar vocals and instrumentals, and they are the best on the album, hands down. “Warm Foothills,” especially, was so wonderful in the fact that it introduced something I had never really heard that much of before: spliced vocals. The construction of this was so seamless and absolutely beautiful. I also enjoyed the continuation of their track “Bloodflood” into “Bloodflood pt. II,” where I was pleasantly surprised to hear some of the vocals from “Fitzpleasure.” It was a great treat for all the listeners, for sure.
I loved An Awesome Wave so much more than This Is All Yours, simply because I felt there was more connection with the words being sung and the music behind it. Each track was a journey into another world, but they still managed to have fluidity, where each track would seamlessly merge into the next. Don’t get me wrong though. I still very much enjoyed This Is All Yours and it’s calming, introspective tracks, and appreciate the fact that Alt-J is attempting to broaden their horizons and experiment more with their sound. Because, after all, a band is nothing if they’re not open-minded and willing to change, which is the idea that Alt-J and the infamous triangle symbol their name is based on symbolizes.
Best tracks: “Warm Foothills,” “Bloodflood pt.II”, “Nara”