First Spin... Alt-J's This Is All Yours
Alt-J's 2012 album An Awesome Wave was one of the most promising debuts from a British band in years, featuring a host of brilliant and original tracks like 'Breezeblocks' and 'Fitzpleasure', as well as earning them a BRIT award for Best British Breakthrough Act and winning them the 2012 Mercury Prize.
Two years on, they've shed a band member in Gwil Sainsbury, who left last year, and releases three singles – 'Hunger of the Pine', 'Left Hand Free' and 'Every Other Freckle' – from their follow-up LP, This Is All Yours, due to hit the shelves next week (September 22). But what about the rest of the tracks on their sophomore album?
We gave it a spin to bring you our first impressions on each and every one of its 13 shiny new tracks. Here goes...
The imaginatively titled opener eases you in gently with a dreamy collage of vocals, although it's not until around the 2:20 mark that there are any real lyrics to speak of, and even then they're fleeting, distant and mangled to the point of indecipherability, but in a nice way – think Boards of Canada and you're in the ballpark. Otherwise its a largely instrumental affair with a mixture of chopped up, choral-style vocals and spanish guitars that leads us in nicely to the next track.
'Arrival in Nara'
Another slow, dreamy track with gentle, finger-picked guitars and lilting pianos. It's very relaxing, actually. Once again, we're nearing the two minute mark before there are any lyrics, but just as we're wondering if the band have gone a bit 'Mogwai', in comes singer Joe Newman with an almost whispered vocal. Much like An Awesome Wave, it's shaping up to be a very chilled album.
Three tracks in and the pace hasn't really picked up any, but 30 seconds in there's the first real sense of a drum groove – it's almost better to think of the first three songs as three parts of the same track, as it all seems to be leading to this point. When it gets there though, it's very good. There's a subtle, distorted Hammond organ purring away in the background that really adds a warmth to to the track underneath the falsetto vocals and delicate guitar picking. It's real grower, this one.
'Every Other Freckle'
Featuring a lyric in which Newman promises to “turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet”, 'Every Other Freckle' picks up where Nara leaves off, slowly picking up the pace but with the same kind of slowly shimmering, grinding groove. It's slow, but heavy, and makes more sense in the context of the rest of the album than as a single. With some beautiful harmonies and some distant, chanting “heys”, it's our favourite so far.
'Left Hand Free'
A welcome shift of gear arrives with 'Left Hand Free', which cranks things up a notch with a bluesy, stomping riff and Newman's raspy jazz club vocals sitting nicely over a lo-fi, 60s-style garage groove that reminds us of an early Rolling Stones track. It's great.
'Garden of England – Interlude'
It seems odd that you should need an interlude at this point – we're not exactly working up a sweat here - but you're getting one and, as the title would suggest, it's a a dreamy flute-led number that sounds almost medieval, but it is very evocative and really does give you the sense of being in an English garden.
We're very much back in dreamy, choral territory here and, if we're honest, this is the only track we've heard yet where there's not really anything to hang a description on. Not the album's best moment, but it's pleasant listening all the same.
'Hunger of the Pine'
Another of the singles already released, anyone paying attention will have heard this played out all over the radio already, but it's one of the best tracks on the album and is a great showcase for Newman's unique voice.
It's another downtempo track, but with some really interesting things going on with the vocals, which are shared between Newman, Lianne Le Havas, Marika Hackman and Sivu, but not in the usual 'you sing a line, I sing a line' way; instead, there are points where a new singer chirps in with just a word or two, making for an unusual effect, but it's very inventive and it works really well.
'The Gospel of John Hurt'
Easily our favourite song title on the LP, this number is gently propelled along with some tinkling, chiming percussion that we can't quite identify, but it's another example of the rich, complex production that runs throughout the album. It's subtle, but there's a lot happening underneath the surface and we suspect it will take a few listens to wrap your head around everything that's going on.
A stripped-back acoustic number featuring just a guitar, piano chords and some haunting vocals which ask “are you a pusher or a puller?”
There's a tinge of bluesy folk about this track, it's very intimate and a little mournful in tone, but it's also quite beautiful in a stark kind of way.
'Bloodflood pt II'
Beginning with a soft piano intro, it seems like we're in for another gentle, delicate track, but then some shuffling electronic beats drop in and suddenly we're in very different territory. There's all sorts going on here, with the song slowly building from its quiet beginning to something pretty big and orchestral. There's brass and what sound like a French horn, with slowly swelling strings building to a gradual climax. It's like somebody's opened the flood gates here, and it's another of our favourite moments on the album.
The album's closing track is a sort of reprise of the opening songs but a little heavier, with a pounding drumbeat underpinning the sea of harmonies that wash over you until there's a break and, for a second, things get quite filthy. It's short and sweet, but a nice way to round off the LP.
All in all, this isn't a radical departure from An Awesome Wave, but there's a higher level of detail and complexity to This Is All Yours and it serves as an expansion on the work they began on their debut. Like many good records, we think this one will take a few listens to really get into, but trust us; you will find many of these tunes lodged in your head for days to come.