Alt-J Stays True to the Title of Their New Album
After the success of An Awesome Wave and This Is All Yours, Leeds-based band Alt-J are releasing their new record, Relaxer. The new album still sounds quintessentially Alt-J, with lead singer Joe Newman’s unmistakable vocals and the expansive sound that encompasses all sorts of synthesizers and drums. Relaxer, however, sees the band broadening their sound with the use of wind instruments and a darker, more haunting atmosphere than that of the previous two releases.
The first song, which is not titled “Intro” like on the other records, is “3WW” and because of its title one can expect something different. Every other Alt-J album began with an explosive song and “3WW” lulls the listener in with hypnotic beats and guitar. It’s the first sign that Relaxer is going to be a somewhat unfamiliar Alt-J listen. The melancholy is short-lived as “In Cold Blood” returns to their loud folktronica. “Hit Me Like That Snare” and “Deadcrush” lead the way in classic Alt-J fashion with deafening drums and Newman’s high, childlike voice singing indistinguishable lyrics.
One of the boldest songs on the album is the cover of “House of the Rising Sun.” It departs from the usual aesthetic in which grit and lo-fi typically reign supreme and, instead, exchanges it for melancholy and beautiful guitar. Newman’s vocals chime in at almost two minutes where he sings out quietly over the guitar and other string instruments. The last three songs, “Adeline,” “Last Year” and “Pleader,” bring back to the moody melodies that kicked off the album. “Last Year,” in particular, blends harmonizing with slow, wandering guitar and echoing wind instruments. Lyrically, it contains the most tragic story on the record. It begins with the narrator describing his life before he commits suicide and it finishes with female vocals and the song she sings at his funeral.
One doesn’t usually attribute melancholy to Alt-J, but Relaxer is their most somber work to date. It is an experimental album for the band, just like all of their works have been experimental; Alt-J took the sounds that they were known for, subdued them and applied them differently. The record is certainly drenched in heavy pop, but they break out of their comfort zone to expand into something deeper and more brooding.