Mister Sinister (alt-J, Relaxer review)

A short poem.

Lifeless he crept upon her,
Daytime was not his friend,

Melancholy was her only friend,
What if the taste lingered for a time,

It is eerie outside at this time,
Too many sounds, too many noises,
It’s all rather eccentric.

We all need to own our weirdness, and alt-J could go in a million different directions at any given time, and they’ve proven that on their previous two albums, but what do I think of their third release? Let’s find out!

 

alt-J – After Laughter

released Jun 2, 2017
****** 6/10

alt-J are an English indie rock group featuring the talents of vocalist and guitar player Joe Newman, Cameron Knight on lead guitar and bass, Gus Unger-Hamilton on keyboards and backing vocals, and Thom Sonny Green on drums. Formed a decade ago, back in 2007, alt-J have now released three studio-length albums, An Awesome Wave, This Is All Yours, and today’s special, Relaxer.

alt-J are the kind of music for Millenials like what pop punk and 90’s r&b were for Generation Y. The voice of a generation – oft confused by physical albums and the thought of saving for a rainy day, but still a voice. Wicked generalization timotheories. Dick.

The thing is, alt-J have been compared to Radiohead a lot, and that is such a tired comparison to make, especially given that while their albums don’t come out with as much regularity anymore, Radiohead are still relevant. This is interesting music, for sure, but it’s not as courageous as those first two albums that alt-J put out.

I could spend a lot of time dissecting this album and pointing out all the places to you where it sounds amazing (read: In Cold Blood, Dead Crush, and Last Year), like the band that created Breeze Blocks and Left Hand Free, but someway and somehow we’ve been treated to a snoozefest for the most part and so many people are singing it’s praising without any reservation. It doesn’t make much sense to me, with a spectacularly weird and awful track in Hit Me Like That Snare. What a flaming pile of garbage that song feels like every time I listen to it.

And as much as I hate that song. This is actually a good thing.

Because it means that alt-J aren’t settling into a pattern of record making. They are willing to explore, to try new things and take some risks when it comes to their sound. Building a unique identity is difficult after all, and all of the comparisons to greats like Arcade Fire, Bastille and Arctic Monkeys would start to get on my nerves too.

This isn’t your mom and dad’s album, and it’s not mine either. But damn it if it doesn’t have the makings of something wonderful for alt-J to grow into in their middle age. They are working on making the content more meaningful, where they already set the standard in pared down simplicity.

Pros: As far as audio engineering and labour goes, nobody has alt-J beat. These gentlemen are more than capable of making arrangements interesting, and using ambience to tell narratives.

Cons: When they add in nuanced lyrics or play with formats, they struggle. It doesn’t always sound good, and Hit Me Like That Snare feels completely out of place with the rest of this record. I wish the experimentation didn’t feature throughout the entire album.

Runtime: 39 minutes

Points of InterestIn case you didn’t already know this, the band’s symbol is the capital letter delta (∆), a triangle. This can be accessed on an Apple Mac computer with the shortcut of alt+J. The first single is 3WW, the second is In Cold Blood, which features lyrics that state 00110011 01110111 01110111, which in binary translates to 3WW.

Adding poetry to covers of songs like House of the Rising Sun is a little bit odd, and a bit too clever, but it’s that sinister sound behind that curtain that has us coming back for seconds. Or should I say 01110011 01100101 01100011 01101111 01101110 01100100 01110011?

theories Summarized

We need to give artists like alt-J the space and time to grow, because we got two really excellent debut and sophomore efforts from them. That doesn’t mean that this album automatically gets a pass, but it does have some high points, and some points you can relax to.

Tim!

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