Album Review: Relaxer, alt-J

Trying to summarise alt-J’s sound and their unpolished ‘balls’, in simple terms, is an extremely hard job. They manage to pack a different style and sound in each song whilst revealing the dark and twisted history behind. Relaxer is a relatively short album, with 8 songs clocking in at under 40 minutes yet it is filled with multiple songs which tick over the five minute mark.
Alt-J are a band who have been around for some years now. 9 years in fact. The trio are composed of Joe Newman (Lead Vocals/Guitar), Thom Green (Drums) and Gus Unger-Hamilton (Keyboard/Vocals). They first met a Leeds University back in 2008. Signing their first major record deal in 2011 and one year later, released their debut album, An Awesome Wave. They have become renowned for their infectious, signature blend of layered, folk infected pop and soaring alternative rock. If there’s one thing alt-J have become known for it’s their fresh, alternative nature.

Their debut album was a huge success, winning the Mercury Prize and three Brit Awards. Although the huge success of their debut album, after extensive worldwide touring, four became three, bassist Gwil Salisbury at the end of 2013. 2014, brought album number two, This Is All Yours debuting at number one and receiving the band’s first Grammy nomination. In March 2017, alt-J started to tease a third studio album through an audio clip captioned with binary which translated to ‘3WW’ which led to the confirmation of their third LP, Relaxer to be released on 2nd June (Friday).

The bands cynicism is at the heart of the album. The first track on the album is ‘3WW’, which is features vocals by Wolf Alice vocalist, Ellie Rowsell. ‘3WW’ is a buzzing yet ambient and acoustic ballad. It was the first teaser track for their latest album and showcased how alt-J’s style is evolving moment by moment. The second track is followed by ‘In Cold Blood’ is another classic alt-J track within various twists and turns throughout the track, it almost makes our jobs almost impossible. This differentiation is a key component to ‘In Cold Blood’ with various instruments and voices flying in and out of the track. The most iconic for me is the use of horns, it just fits perfectly alongside the drums, vocals and guitar. Alt-J have shown their ability to manipulate the energy of a song and create an absolute banger.

‘House of the Rising’ slows things right down. It is a misty, uncertain rearrangement of the traditional folk tune, the brooding aura really enables the band to pull you deeper into the dark hole which Alt-J have torn open. ‘Hit Me Like a Snare’, is a quick stop to hear alt-J’s pysch-garage freak out which hints at the Leeds natives ability to adopt a more punk like sound.

Alt-J turn to Ellie Rowsell, again, for her luring vocals on ‘Deadcrush’. A funky, upbeat track fuelled by its silky shuffling and moody vocals filled with falsetto. It has an extremely sarcastic tone while making a literal play on Anne Boleyn. Relaxer seems to be filled with historical context, Adeline is no different. The track references the Irish Ballad of The Auld Triangle. To sum it up in three words; dark, slow and dreamy.

‘Last Year’, another track with guest vocals; this time Marika Hackman, who has just released her own album, ‘I’m Not Your Man’. The penultimate track is somewhat the gentlest song on the album and tells the story of heartbreak through a powerful duet. It creates a sense of longing. The final track is ‘Pleader’, an attempt to reconcile with the dark themes which run throughout the album. However, it has an extremely tense start through the use of keyboard before falling into a harmony which seems reminiscent of those heard in church. It breaks back into a thrilling instrumental which takes you back into the darkness of the album. The spilt between harmonious, cheerful melody and dark, thrilling yet horrifying tune is something which alt’J tries to leave on listeners.

These eight track fuelled about heartbreak, death, sexual rendezvous, bountiful literary references and Tasmania seemed to take alt-J down a cinematic route. Its genre nothing short of psychological thriller or action. Album number three has shown how the bands style has been evolving into this ultra-alternative sound, which can only be likened to the Leeds born band. However, they are still trying to find their true identity. alt-J have taken time to create a bluesy, more intimidating alternative band who create something moody and dark whilst hitting a comfortable depth. Isn’t this something we have all been craving?

alt-J have just announced a short seaside tour in September. Starting on 4 September, alt-J will be stopping in Brighton, Margate, Bournemouth, Weston Super Mare and Blackpool. These will not be ones to miss.


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