Alt-J’s (∆) subtly smart album

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After their 2012 Mercury Prize-winning debut album “An Awesome Wave,” alt-rock/computer-rock/folk-step/Radiohead-sound-a-like band alt-J is back at it with their sophomore effort “This Is All Yours.”

Their first album was met with decent critical response, but their new and unique sound, poetic yet barely recognizable lyricism brought them worldwide fans and awards.

Now we get to hear if they match their success.

First off, I want to give you some information on what happened between their album releases. They toured extensively throughout the world, won the 2012 Mercury Prize, but most importantly, the bassist Gwil Sainsbury, quit. The band spoke about how Sainsbury was a behind-the-scenes leader, and was a driving force in their creative output.

The album starts off slowly with two introductions. “Intro” is filled with the trio harmonizing and “la-la-la-ing” for the better part of the song. Then it slowly develops with guitars, mandolins, and vague lyrics that channel Wu-Tang Clan. It is an interesting song to listen to, and a typical alt-J opener, but it leaves something to be desired.

The second song “Arrival in Nara” (the first of three songs that include Nara in the title) is also almost entirely void of lyrics, but the words that are sung are very simple and poetic. It tells the story of a woman drowning, but she starts singing happily, implying that she is dying doing what she loves.

The second of the Nara series, “Nara”, is a bass-heavy song about a homosexual man trying to marry his partner, but he is not allowed to. There are references to Russia and Alabama, places that have a reputation for being unaccepting of the LGBT community. There are also various pop-culture references to the Rolling Stones and their song “Petrol Blues”, the French film “Blue is the Warmest Color,” and a small reference to Aslan of the “Chronicles of Narnia” series.

The middle of the album consists of the sexy single “Every Other Freckle,” the bluesy “Left Hand Free” and the weird recorder duet in the “Garden of England” which introduces “Choice Kingdom,” a song that gives a very dark opinion of the political situation in the United Kingdom.

“Hunger of the Pine” is the first single that the band premiered. It is, in essence, a folk-step song. Folk influenced lyrics about a man pining away for a woman, with heavy bass and synths, and a sample of Miley Cyrus chanting “I’m a female rebel” from her song “4x4.”

“Warm Foothills” and “Pusher” are beautiful acoustic songs that are nice breaks from the bass-heavy and sonically intense songs that surround them. “Warm Foothills” features a couple of folk artists–the likes of Conor Oberst, Lianne Li Havas, and Maria Hackman–where they finish the lyrics for each other. “Pusher” is refreshing because it is a love song with creative and poetic lyrics that remind me of their first album.

Possibly my favorite track off of the album, “The Gospel of John Hurt”, is a loud, foot stomping, groovy, fun to listen to song. The lyrics reference the “L-shaped” piece in Tetris, connecting it to the idea of feeling left out of place. It also pulls influence from one of the goriest scenes in science-fiction horror, John Hurt’s death scene (hence the title “The Gospel of John Hurt”).

The album’s second to last song “Bloodflood Pt. II”, a sequel to one of my favorite songs from “An Awesome Wave,” “Bloodflood,” is a horn-laden, folk-step tune with intricate drum beats weaving in and out of each other. The album ends with “Leaving Nara” and a cover of Bill Wither’s “Lovely Day,” which sends the LP out on a high note, and leaving the organized chaos to settle in.

This is a strong album. It has a consistent theme and the lyricism is fantastic. The instrumentation is alt-J at it’s best, even if they did lose a key member. The computer-alt-art-folkstep band has created an interesting piece of music that should please fans of the band.

 

Standout tracks: “Nara”; “Every Other Freckle”; “The Gospel of John Hurt”; “Pusher”; “Lovely Day”