Album Review: alt-J – This Is All Yours
I was a bit bummed to find out that I couldn’t include alt-J’s An Awesome Wave on my favorite albums of 2013 as it was released in 2012. “Tessellate” caught my attention immediately when I heard it on the radio back in early 2013, halting all conversation to turn up the volume and let the dark pianos and tingy beats wash over me. I had to hear more from this mysterious alt-J and I needed to do it as soon as possible.
An Awesome Wave confounded me at first. It wasn’t like anything I had ever really heard before. While I could hear the Radiohead, specifically from The King of Limbs, there were still so many textures that were completely foreign to me. From the simple beauty of “Matilda” to the buzzing bass of “Fitzpleasure” (best heard at loud volumes with the windows down as you drive around in my experience), I was hooked. Even now I find myself going back and listening to the album over and over again, it’s an addiction I don’t care to break.
So it’s no surprise that This Is All Yours was easily my most anticipated album of the year. Like all sophomore follow ups, I had some trepidation. Could it even compare to what An Awesome Wave has meant to me? Am I simply doomed to just be disappointed by every subsequent release as I have been with other bands (most notably The Killers, but that’s another post completely)? I found myself hesitating to hit play when “Hunger of the Pine” was released back in June. There would be no going back, I would either continue to be excited or have all my alt-J dreams smashed.
I held my breath as the first notes came through my headphones followed shortly by Joe Newman’s familiar voice. It was a simple beginning with a dark quality much like “Tessellate” and, what I would go on to find out, a sample of some lyrics from a Miley Cyrus song. It didn’t have the same effect on me as “Tessellate” did, but it also wasn’t disappointing. There was no sonic explosion that I had experienced throughout An Awesome Wave, but the misty slow-burn track began to grow on me with each listen.
The release of “Left Hand Free” and “Every Other Freckle” gave me much more confidence in the album to come. “Every Other Freckle” still shows some restraint from the band but it feels more like the song has been slightly muted rather than just kept to a few simple instrumentations. There are muted horns and fuzzy bass lines dropped in over almost tribal sounding chants and drums. The track builds and builds before dropping off and then building again, repeating this over and over throughout. This was the alt-J I had been waiting for.
My favorite track on the album has to be “Left Hand Free”, another song that I feel is best listened to with the volume up and car window down. There’s a nice Black Keys blues and southern rock feel to it. The band calls the track “the least alt-J” song ever, starting things off with a “joke riff” before making the drums as “clichéd as possible”. The track may just be a jab at their record company when “Hunger of the Pine” failed to be the juggernaut single that “Tessellate” was, but I can’t help but love the radio friendly single.
While An Awesome Wave shouted alt-J’s arrival as loudly as it could, This Is All Yours quietly convinces you that they are here to stay. “Arrival In Nara” is hauntingly beautiful with Newman’s vocals lilting over strings, pianos, and guitars. “Nara” continues the story as the music picks up a bit, still allowing quiet moments for Newman’s mostly indiscernible lyrics to stand on their own. “Bloodflood, Pt. II” features more muffled horns with some repeating samples and building keys, reusing some familiar lyrics from “Bloodflood” and “Fitzpleasure” which, honestly, only made me love the track more. The album closes with the last part of the Nara trilogy, “Leaving Nara” which I feel works wonderfully as a departing song. Repeating vocals over glitchy fuzz, keys, and guitars build as Newman’s voice becomes even more ethereal before fading out.
Like An Awesome Wave before it, This Is All Yours takes me to places that I have not been to before. Where I loved Wave’s boldness, I appreciate the delicate quiet of This Is All Yours. All I want to do now is set adrift in the beauty that is This Is All Yours until I get to see alt-J live in November.