Imitation is the highest form of praise, so when a video came out in 2015 of two guys eating rice cakes titled “How to write an alt-J song” I’m sure alt-J were extremely humbled (they even changed their Twitter profile picture to a rice cake). I am only bringing up this throwback because I feel like the band’s new album, RELAXER, has taken a leaf out of the piss-taking book. On first listen, I was very confused about the sound. It still had lead singer Joe Newman’s distinctive vocals, the heavy use of sampling and unusual lyrics that made me fall in love with their first two albums, An Awesome Wave and This is All Yours. But, they seem to be following the chorus of their track ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’, “fuck you, I’ll do, what I wanna do”. The album toes the line between ‘take this seriously’ and ‘we don’t care at all’. Unfortunately, this has meant not all of the tracks work. But those that do, like ‘Deadcrush’, are up there as the best from the band. The pre-release track ‘3WW’ is also up there as one of my favourites, managing to make singing binary cool. ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is very much under their brand of songs that are seemingly about being happy, but sound incredibly depressing and ‘Adeline’ is a sweeping song about a Tasmanian devil. Unfortunately, the end of the album peters out. ‘Last Year”s lyrics sound like a teenage girl’s diary and ‘Pleader’ is very heavy in orchestral backing that doesn’t match their usually distinctive sampling. They have also continued with their use of soft female vocals on tracks which give a more indie feel to the sound than This is All Yours which edged towards more of a rock vibe.
‘Last Year”s lyrics sound like a teenage girl’s diary
But don’t worry, you die hard alt-J fans, the band have stuck to their wacky lyrics. My favourites are “two thirsty girls from Hornsea” and “The smell of sex/good like burning wood” on ‘3WW’ – which really makes me question what they get up to in the bedroom. They also have stuck to the concept album style that worked well on This is all Yours, with a distinctive video game aesthetic. They even have an explorable ‘world’ of the album on their website. I would recommend checking it out. The word ‘on the internet’ is that the album is based on a cult PS1 game called LSD: Dream Emulator. If you would like to waste a few hours then there are plenty of videos online of gameplay. But I honestly can’t see the influence on the music itself, it is only really an influence on the album artwork (which is a screenshot from the game) and publicity. They do count to 10 in Japanese on a number of the tracks, so I know how to do that now which is kind of fun.
To be honest, they seem to have spent more time creating a 90s gaming platform than on the album. Despite the three-year wait, there are only 8 tracks, half the size of the band’s previous two albums. Maybe it is because I was such a big fan, but I am a little disappointed. But then again, the band has every right to say “fuck you, I’ll do, what I wanna do” so who am I to judge.