alt-J (also known as ∆) have always been a little bit of a mystery to me. Every since they started in 2007, each release has been met with a strange “what the living f….” reaction from myself. When I reviewed their last album This Is All Yours on my other blog, I used the words “awful and redundant” to describe what the best percentage of the sound of that album.
So, why did I say I would review alt-J’s third album Relaxer?
It might seem like I am aching for punishment or wanting to inflict it on the band, but I have a strange curiosity when it comes to alt-J’s music, their image and their overall sound.
They have not delivered (for me) a consistent album, but after my review of This Is All Yours, one song haunted me and that was “Nara“. That song has appeared in my dreams at times, it is never bores and I could listen to it in any situation and still get goosebumps. So, that is telling me that there is something more to alt-J, there is something working under the hipster draping that I will love.
Relaxer was recorded in four studios across London, including the world famous Abbey Road studio. It was produced with Charlie Andrew, who produced their previous two records and features songs that date back to their formative years in Leeds University. This might give it a feeling that they are digging towards the end of the barrel, trying to see what is left in the closet. It is an eight track affair, one which jumps from no-wave to folk, then to electronica via silence and it never settles on one style for more than a moment.
Relaxer moves with ease between each style, never giving much thought to the end product as they are looking after each song as an separate entity, a unique piece of art.
This attention to detail really pays off as it is a case of third time lucky for alt-J, they have stepped out of the shadows of pretension that had been their downfall for me. For Relaxer, it seems as if the stars have all aligned and they have released a beautiful crafted piece of art. From the folk mutation of “3WW” (which features the sounds of furnaces burning in Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, UK), via the deep down and dirty “Hit Me Like That Snare” which is about exploring a sex hotel, a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” and ending with the delicate and fragile “Pleader” which makes my heart soar.
I should not be enjoying this as much as I do, I feel that I am rebelling against my old self who would be foaming at the mouth with anger.
But, you know what? Fuck him!
With Relaxer, alt-J have not just changed my mind about them, but they have won my heart with effortless ease as well. Each song grows with each listen, the album makes leaps and bounds upon each return. alt-J have created a strange album that does not follow any wave or fashion, they have released an album which is not constrained by their own hesitation or having to follow a formula.
They have created a piece of art, an album that I can truly appreciate and more importantly, one that justifies the hype. It might not have a scene or a wave being it, but all pioneers have had to make their own way in the world.
Well played alt-J, well played.
Rating: 4/5 – Art with no waves, genres, or boundaries