Alt-J's Relaxer: What You Need To Know
Alt-J followed up their Mercury Prize-winning debut An Awesome Wave with the equally beguiling This Is All Yours in 2014, earning themselves a Grammy nomination in the process. This week they're back with their third full-length offering, Relaxer. Here's everything you need to know...
A little background...
Since the release of This Is All Yours, the band have toured extensively in the UK, North America, Europe and elsewhere, picking up a nomination for Best Alternative Rock album at the Grammys in 2015 for their efforts on their sophomore album. After touring the world, the band took a six-month break, during which time Gus Unger-Hamilton and a couple of friends opened a restaurant in Hackney.
In March this year they began teasing new music, posting audio clips coupled with cryptic binary messages before unveiling the first single from their new album, '3WW'.
Who's producing it?
Charlie Andrew, who produced the Alt-J's first two albums and has worked with the likes of Rae Morris and Bloc Party, is back to man the controls once again for the band's third album.
Any special guests?
Wolf Alice's Ellie Rowsell adds vocals to '3WW', but other than that it's just Joe, Gus and Thom doing what they do best.
What does it sound like?
Alt-J are arguably one of the most unique-sounding bands to emerge in recent years and on Relaxer they continue to blend elements of folk, pop, dub and alternative rock in their own inimitable way. At just eight tracks and a shade under 39 minutes in length, this is a far more economical record than its predecessor, but it also feels leaner and more muscular than This Is All Yours.
Opening track and lead-off single '3WW' feels like an old English folk tune with it's ominous, slow rhythms and hypnotic acoustic guitars, punctuated by flashes of mbaqanga-style guitars and one or two moments where it threatens to veer into Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd territory before opening up into a lushly-orchestrated duet between lead vocalist Joe Newman and Ellie Rowsell.
'Adeline' has a similarly folky vibe that runs throughout the album, slowly building into a crescendo of brass and strings, while 'Cold Blood' is probably the most similar to the sounds on their first two albums, a radio-friendly blast of punchy organs, grinding guitar riffs and welling brass that serves as one of the more uptempo moments on the album.
Another interesting highlight is 'House of the Rising Sun', a version so different from others by the likes of The Animals and Woody Guthrie that it barely even feels like a cover version and sits snugly with the other folk-influenced sounds on the album.
Does it deliver?
One of the upsides of the album's relatively short running time is that there is absolutely no filler here at all; each track is uniquely powerful in its own way and rather than being a departure form what they've done before, Relaxer feels like a distilled and condensed version of Alt-J's sound, yet somehow still more expansive, especially in terms of the instrumentation used across the album's eight songs.
If you fell in love with the first two albums, prepare to go head over heels again for their latest offering; they've nailed it here.