Alt-J, a band with whom we’ve come to expect nothing but the unexpected, have mixed it up once again with their diverse new album Relaxer.
By Katie Manning.
Constantly innovating since their Mercury Prize winning debut in 2012, Alt-J continue to add new definition to the alt-rock genre by reinventing it. Consisting of only 8 tracks, Relaxer looks deceivingly sparse, but when listened to as an anthology of work, it seems that more craftsmanship has been put into these 38 minutes of music than any other record they’ve released.
Opening track 3WW is a confident start with its one-and-a-half-minute long intro of slippery acoustic guitar. Accompanied by Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell, it’s a conflicting and profound duet as tense vocals give way to the pair sweetly singing together. This intimacy continues on their latest single Adeline. A real back to basics moment, Adeline’s haunting simplicity allows the track to build up to the chorus of “I wish you well”, and goes from sounding earnest and sincere to something more desperately urgent.
Alternatively, In Cold Blood’s spiky repetitive vocal hook of zero’s and one’s comes in sharply after the silvery intro track. However, the song is most recognisable as the commercial Alt-J from the radio, with its fast pace, catchy ‘la-la-la’, and powerful symphony of brass.
The contrast of slow, meditative songs against bolder, bigger tunes occurs often on the record. One example of this is the band’s slowed down, ominous sounding take on a folk classic in House of the Rising Sun, juxtaposing with the harsh psychedelic-rock of Hit Me Like That Snare. The drunken swagger of the vocals’ here takes the band in a different direction, sounding much cooler than we’re used to. Switching from sound to sound makes the record feel scattered at times, however we must assume every track listing has its purpose; Relaxer does the exact opposite of what the title suggests, instead keeping listeners on their toes.
If the variation of songs did not confuse listeners enough already, finishing track Pleader will do it for you. The combination of the hymnal choir, euphoric ensemble of strings, and eerie intro forge this into a sort of mad-hatter’s waltz. It is wonderfully bizarre and different, and that’s what makes it great.
Ultimately, Relaxer is a step into something different for Alt-J, who still seem to be searching for what kind of band they want to be. But the experimentation is what makes this album. The interchangeable songs sweep you along with the band, as they touch base into a wondrous concoction of styles. Alt-J’s artistic intelligence shines through on this carefully constructed album, to give us something abstract and different, yet still unmistakably ‘Alt-J’.