Alt-J is back, with a dreamy reimagining of their 2017 project, RELAXER, charged with hip-hop, R&B, and escapism. Lomepal, Paigey Cakey, and Rejjie Snow are among an expansive list of features, which showcases different facets of rap, and different languages. This varied, passionate 11-track span succeeds more than it fails, but is equally intriguing and absorbing while doing both.
They make their intentions clear in the album’s first 5 seconds, as ‘3WW’’s oozing, intoxicating riff is instantly met with Little Simz’s rugged vocals, and we’re thrust into this alternate, hip-hop drenched Alt-J. Later in the album, the brilliant malleability of ‘3WW’ shines again, as Lomepal’s impassioned French rapping sits comfortably on top of the looped instrumental. The features aren’t always effective, however: Pusha T’s single verse on ‘In Cold Blood’ doesn’t seem to embed itself in the remix, and the track had me questioning whether these re-works would ever be able to surpass the originals.
In many ways, REDUXER finds avenues around various issues I had with its predecessor.
I found my answer in the next track. The album finds its peak as Tuka’s mellow rap floats on top of a soaring rework of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Their original cover of The Animals’ classic was itself wired cinematically, but it felt aimless and uninspiring. But the marriage of Tuka’s confessional spoken-word style with Alt-J’s atmospheric, electronic progression is an inspired revision. The track reaches a loud, poignant climax, and by the end, I felt I had heard the full potential of Alt-J’s intriguing exploration of their own work.
The quirky trio have already made a hobby out of having their music remixed, even in their decidedly more indie beginnings. It’s certainly unsurprising, given that their music has always worn experimentation as a badge of pride. Although assured in its own style, their layered sound has always felt compartmental enough to lend itself so well to reconstruction; an assured style, but not a static one. And this is why, on one level, REDUXER works so well. RELAXER had already offered up such a varied landscape that its buzzing, emphatic reinvention feels almost inevitable.
In many ways, REDUXER finds avenues around various issues I had with its predecessor. An Awesome Wave had a fidgety endearment to it, while This Is All Yours possessed a
cinematic allure – but their third outing felt at times murky, and at times a bit lost. At its best, Alt-J’s urge to explore interesting musical corridors is fascinating, but in RELAXER those corridors oftentimes felt empty. Although it was unfamiliar, hearing PJ Sin Suela’s Spanish rapping cut through Trooko’s abrasive rehash of ‘Pleader’ thrust some magnetism back into Alt-J.
Yet, for all of its exploration, it lacks a centre – ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ with Jimi Charles Moody grooves, ‘Deadcrush’ attacks, while ‘Last year’ caresses. It’s expansive and curious, but it lacks richness – a certain soul or pivot that their first two albums seemed to operate and dance around so effectively.
But, it’s a centre I’m not sure Alt-J want it to have. It’s hard to know if they want REDUXER to stand as a sole, distinct entity – like they normally wish their albums to do – or if it’s meant to just exist as a fun, collaborative something? A compilation, maybe? The fact some tracks appear twice, with separate remixes, suggests the latter. They are self-declared hip-hop fans, which is evident in the album’s itching to touch various bases in the field of modern hip-hop. It doesn’t only explain the album’s lack of centre, it almost makes it charming – in some ways, REDUXER plays out as a passion project: a band of hip-hop enthusiasts finding a middle ground between music they love to listen to, and music they love to make.