alt-J: Musicians or Storytellers?
October 10th, 2014 by Lauren Puleo
Release Date: 9/22/14
alt-J’s second studio album is more than just a collection of songs. It is a holistic work of art, which has lately become something of a rarity in popular music. This album not only succeeds musically, but also as a piece of poetry, and a true example of innovation in today’s music scene.
This English indie-rock band was formed in Leeds back in ’07. The current line-up consists of Joe Newman (guitar/lead vocals), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards/vocals), Thom Green (drums), and Cameron Knight, who will be replacing Gwil Sainsbury (guitar/bass). While this is only their second album (An Awesome Wave came out in 2012), alt-J is already making a name for themselves in the music industry. This Is All Yours hit the top of the British charts immediately after its release on September 22 this year.
There is no denying that alt-J has a unique sound. You’re not going to mistake them for anyone else. There is really no other band that I’m familiar with that would make a fair comparison. Although I will say that Radiohead set the stage for all of these experimental indie bands with everything they’ve produced since Kid A in 2000, alt-J still very much has something new to contribute.
What I like about alt-J is their ability to create a mood for the listener, and through that they are able to create a contiguous listening experience. These guys produce more than just a catchy tune, they produce a unique, detailed, and complicated experience for the listener. The emotions that these songs evoke are much more complex than “happy” or “sad”. So if you’re going to take the time to sit down and listen to this whole album (which I strongly suggest you do!), get ready to do some deep thinking.
Ok. Time for a track run-down. “Intro” is, well, an intro. It’s always so tempting to skip these songs and get to the “meat” of an album, but I encourage that you give this song a chance.
“Arrival In Nara” is a dramatic shift from “Intro“. This song is representative of a recurring theme throughout the album: the sharp contrast between the emotions evoked by the music and those evoked by the lyrics. In “Arrival In Nara“, for example, the music is very soothing and would put your mind at ease… if you weren’t paying attention to the lyrics. In the second verse Gus sings “In a blink and in one motion/ Rope constricts/ Rips her towards the ocean.” What’s amazing about this song is that the music by itself does in fact create picture of an ocean for the listener, but it is a very different ocean than the violent one painted by the lyrics.
If you’re interested in lyrics and writing, alt-J is definitely a band worth studying. They are very well known for hiding messages in their songs, and every line seems to be a metaphor for a metaphor. For the sake of my own sanity, I’ll leave the interpretation up to you.
Lyrics aside, I’d have to say that my top three songs off this album would have to be “Every Other Freckle“, “Left Hand Free“, and “Hunger of the Pine“, although “The Gospel of John Hurt” is definitely way up there too. “Left Hand Free” is probably the closest that any song off this album gets to something that you would hear on your typical radio station. In other words, it has toe-tap-ability. The guitars are nice and punchy, and it has just a hint of blues influence in it. Plus the vocals are filtered to give them that vintage vinyl sound.
“Hunger of the Pine” is the most mellow of the three, and surprisingly, I have to say that the back-up vocals are one of my favorite components of the song. They create a driving force behind Unger-Hamilton’s main melody, which allows the song to build up as it goes. This song is a great example of alt-J’s ability to utilize multiple instruments without over-cluttering.
Basically, this album is perfect for the listener who doesn’t just want a bunch of singles, but who wants a complete listening experience. These guys are not just great musicians, but they’re great storytellers as well.