Alt-J’s debut album An Awesome Wave contained a roughly equal measure of the memorable and the forgettable. While songs like ‘Matilda’ and ‘Taro’ showed off the band’s penchant for vibrant indie pop anthems, large sections of the album struggled to hold the attention. Now the trio are back with This Is All Yours and have again brought to the table some silky, multi-layered compositions, but the low points of this album are much lower than anything from An Awesome Wave, and see alt-J slide from the forgettable into the downright awful.
Where alt-J are good, they’re still really good. ‘Nara’ is a slow build of keys, percussion and electronic elements that create a lovely upbeat haze, and provides an example of how engaging they can be when they stay focused. ‘Warm Foothills’ is another of the album’s finest moments, introducing whistles and a string accompaniment to pleasing effect. ‘Hunger of the Pine’ meanwhile samples Miley Cyrus of all people, and pounds its way into the listeners head, featuring a nice bit of saxophone for good measure.
It’s unfortunate that some of their attempts to keep things fresh have resulted in a botched experiment
On the flip side of this is that where alt-J are bad, they’re really bad. Take ‘Every Other Freckle’ as a prime example, on which Joe Newman must have felt that the lyric ‘I want to turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet‘ would illicit responses other than revulsion or pitying laughter. Lyrics like this and ‘I want to bed you like a cat beds into a beanbag‘ mean that you haven’t stopped cringing until midway through the next song.
Not that this disguises the fact that ‘Left Hand Free’ is a song as out of place as a penguin in the Sahara. Bringing in a folkish elements and an American twang to the vocals, its hard to see it as anything other than a cynical attempt to pander to US radio stations and singles charts, and it sticks out like a sore thumb. An additional problem is that the album effectively has two intros, which is a strange and unnecessary element and means the album is slower to start than an early 90’s computer.
If An Awesome Wave combined the good with the bland, then This Is All Yours combines it with the dreadful
It was always going to be difficult for alt-J to follow the success they had with An Awesome Wave. It’s unfortunate that some of their attempts to keep things fresh have resulted in a botched experiment (‘Left Hand Free’) and some truly awful lyricism (‘Every Other Freckle’). These songs mean that in places This Is All Yours is almost unlistenable, and that’s a shame because there are some very nicely constructed pieces of music on the album as well but naturally they don’t stick in the memory as long as crisp packet based metaphors for oral sex.
If An Awesome Wave combined the good with the bland, then This Is All Yours combines it with the dreadful, and therefore it’s a step down in quality. Alt-J do have the potential to one day make a great album, but with the release of This Is All Yours that looks a more distant prospect.
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