This review originally appeared on Tonedeaf.com.au
In this day and age it is near on impossible to escape the words; ‘pressure’, ‘anticipation’ and ‘second album syndrome’, when discussing the release of a band’s sophomore record. These words take on even more significance when said band’s debut release garnered worldwide acclaim, won the Mercury Music prize and sold over one million copies. However sceptics will more than likely assume that the dizzy heights of that triumphant first release won’t be reached on album number two. On the other hand fans will have every finger and toe crossed, in the hope that their amplified expectation levels for the follow up will be met head on.
For Alt-J, their meteoric rise to prominence was nothing short of astounding. From humble beginnings in a dorm room, it was the rather unique concoction of; vocalist Joe Newman’s elaborate falsetto, alongside their intricate use of sonic layering, while mixing elements of folk, electronica and alternative rock, on 2012’s An Awesome Wave, that propelled the four university friends, into the public eye.
So how does a band go about readying themselves for the task of producing such a follow up? If they try and repeat the same recipe, they’ll be scolded for not permitting their sound to grow and mature, while if they wander too far from their past, and it fails, they’ll be shunned for experimenting and turning their back on the formulaic sounds that brought them such success.
With This Is All Yours, Alt-J have managed to seemingly perch themselves smack bang in the middle, of both scenarios.
Here is what we learned from it.
Alt-J’s Lyrical Content Has Become Even More Left Of Centre
Throughout the record you are taken aback by what drips out of Newman’s mouth, something he already alluded to: “On the first record, most of the lyrics and the narratives had a meaning. But on this one, there are moments where I sing words, but I’m not aware what those words are, if that makes sense.”
The fictional world of Narnia gets a nod, when Aslan gets a random mention in ‘Nara’, while presumptuous metaphors are also on show during the track as Newman spouts; “Love is a pharaoh and he’s boning me”. The audacious lyrical imagery doesn’t end there, ‘Every Other Freckle’ elaborates with; “Turn you inside out/to lick you like a packet of crisps”, while the suggestive ‘Warm Foothills’ includes: “Like sternum to button/lined lip pinches in between”.
You Can’t Judge A Band By Their Use Of Miley Cyrus Samples
Strange statement, but the fact is it’s true. ‘Hunger of the Pine’ was the initial introduction of what was to come, from the new look Alt-J. Having been in the public eye from a young age, Cyrus has done more than enough in recent years to remove herself from her once former ‘child star’ image.
Following a chance meeting with Cyrus, drummer Thom Green, said he wanted to remix her track ‘4×4′. This happened to coincide with the writing of ‘Hunger of the Pine’, which focuses on Gwil Sainsbury’s exodus. It’s an atmospheric heavy track, loaded with an intensive electronic build up and subtle drumming, with Cyrus’ sample sitting perfectly within its pounding beat. It is a brave and bold statement from Alt-J, which proves they are prepared to look forward.
The Band Don’t Need To Ride The Hooks Of An Awesome Wave
Be prepared to be disappointed, if you are expecting to hear rehashes of; ‘Breezeblocks’, ‘Something Good’ or ‘Matilda’. In a live setting they always got the crowd’s blood levels pumping. In this instance however, Alt-J have gone for a more down tempo infused record, perhaps inspired by Sainsbury’s decision to jump ship?
There is the slow and piano led ‘Arrival In Nara’, the delicate guitar plucking of ‘Choice Kingdom’, interspersed with swaying strings, highlighting the subtly Newman’s falsetto can possess, while ‘Plusher’ is a stripped down love sonnet, which at times eerily evokes Jeff Buckley. While the tranquil ‘Warm Foothills’, includes vocals by Lianne Le Havas, with understated cameos from Conor Oberst, Sivu and Marika Hackman.
It’s not all melancholy however, as the gothic and dark electronic edge of ‘The Gospel of John Hurt’, an ode to the stomach bursting scene from Alien, should have audiences singing; “Oh, coming out of the woodwork/Chest bursts like John Hurt/Coming out of the wood” aloud.
Three Is Just As Good As Four
When it was announced, that bassist Sainsbury had left one wondered whether the make-up of the group, would disintegrate. In short the answer is no. Alt-J have embraced expanding their layered and electronic boundaries even further on This Is All Yours, even if their catchy and upbeat song writing style has taken a back step.
Two questions arose from This Is All Yours: Is it a record that will reach out to all those who took to An Awesome Wave? Would it have had the same impact if it was their debut release? Both are highly debateable, as some fans will undoubtedly love it, but as a whole it doesn’t flow or grab this listener’s attention in the same manner their awesome debut did.