15 October 2014

Alt-J - This Is All Yours

Saying as we are currently in the middle of getting the blogs together for this year's Mercury Music Prize, it is timely that a former winner has released their follow up to their Mercury triumph.  Alt-J has had a few problems whilst approaching their second album.  They lost guitar/bass player Gwil Sainsbury at the beginning of 2014, there has been stories of negative press reaction to this album as well, whilst by no means a band in dire straits (not the band, but in a bit of a sticky situation) it does seem that the curse of the Mercury winner seems to be alive and well.  To be honest, I have not paid much attention to Leeds based band.  Not because any other reason than there is only so many hours in the day.  But due to their previous connection with the Mercury Prize, I decided to find out what they were currently up to.  Before the review starts, I would also like to point out I have not (knowingly) heard this band before so I have no idea what to expect; all I do know is that Spotify loves them, Pitchfork hates them and I have no real knowledge of them.  Could it be a perfect storm to indifference or passionate love?

Starting the album is "Intro" which has vocals looping and sounding like they are being played through a keyboard, sounding like a machine trying to be choir with recordings to fit in with humanity.  It then morphs into the medieval-esque chant that becomes a bass heavy slice of electronica that keeps that traditional feeling with hints of Arabic sounds, Georgian chants and a melting pot of various styles.  Also for a track called "Intro", it lasts a lot longer than your general loop to start an album song.  "Arrival In Nara" is the next song and it opens with a piano and guitar slowly picking their way through the notes, forming into an interesting series of peaks and troughs.  There is no unleashing of an electronica element on this number, it is strange for this song to follow "Intro" for me as it does not deliver on the early promise of the number; it feels like the song is on a holding pattern throughout that fails to materialise at the end of the number.  "Nara" instead is the song that "Arrival In Nara" should have been, it takes the theme and introduces the rest of the band to the audience.  I do not know if the band thought it would be better to split this potential prog length song into two pieces, but it is to the determent of the album; with that said I find "Nara" to be a brilliant and electrifying number that brings my interest back to the record. After this the band delivers "Every Other Freckle" continues this traditional feeling mixed with modern instrumentation, it bring to mind a new approach to the bard/ministerial songs that are gently mocked in Monty Python & The Holy Grail.  I cannot decide if this is a work of genius or pretentious drivel, either way it is at least interesting.

"Left Hand Free" on the other hand does nothing for this album, sounding like a broken Northern Soul number I have a feeling that this song will soon be used on a hipster-esque trainer advert coming to a TV screen near you (if it has not already been used for a beer commercial).  Next is an interlude track called "Garden Of England" which has the sounds of the countryside mixed in with a recorder (or some other wood instrument) playing for just over a minute, it is over before any impression can really be made.  After this you have the "Choice Kingdom" which just drifts and drifts and goes nowhere fast, it is much like "Arrival In Nara" it could be so much more and ends up being limp and pointless.  "Hunger Of The Pine" keeps on the empty feeling of this record and does not address the problems, even with the pulse moving a little from the drums and the sample of Miley Cyrus on the track.  This was the lead single off the album which sort of makes sense in the greater scheme of things, but overall the track feels like it is missing a lot as well. "Warm Foothills" is another traditional number in feeling, with a mixing duet to off-set the relaxing pattern in the background. Unlike "Nara" it is not immediate in its beauty and you do have to bear with it, but it does have something about it that; there is a fracture beauty about the song which is best represented in the chop/change nature of the vocal delivery.  

"The Gospel Of John Hurt" starts off incredibly slow, almost to the point that I was sure that the band had take lesson from Brian Eno in terms of minimalism.  It starts off so bleak and desolate that even Nick Cave would turn up his collar and look for warmer pastures, but as the song moves along it develops into something new and at the same time very familiar.  After this track we are introduced to "Pusher", an acoustic dive into the abyss of the band.  The song is another harrowing track on this album, but it does not feel natural in delivery or style; it feels very calculated and contrived.  Then comes "Bloodflood pt.II" which give images of early Yeasayer and the darkest periods of Depeche Mode, but it takes so long to get to anything approaching exciting that by the time you get to the ending of the track you are drifting aimlessly in your mind.  It is beautifully put together, but by deity it takes it time getting there.  The original ending track to the album is called "Leaving Nara" which returns to the earlier themes that were explored by the earlier tracks that have Nara in the title.  Feeling like a deconstruction of the elements of the song, this shows what the band are capable of - I will get to this in my summary.  However, ending the album is the bonus track "Lovely Day"; a cover of the Bill Withers classic which does not exactly a mood lifter and the title could not be further from the truth. I guess this is the most fitting ending to the album as well; it is thoroughly desolate and depressing.

Musically I cannot fault some of this album, I would be hypocritical if I said otherwise as it has elements of a lot of my favourite bands.  However in delivery terms, sections of this album are awful and redundant.  It can take the band six minutes to mustard something approaching exciting and in other parts they just go nowhere at all.  The most exciting things about this album are the Nara trilogy, which is a beautiful theme split into three parts over the album.  In the UK, this album entered at number one in the album charts; I can only attribute this success to people wanting to see if they had improved on their Mercury winning debut album.  The only other thing I can think about this is that the hipsters are trying to mount a challenge to the musical world as this makes Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Leonard Cohen, Smashing Pumpkins, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds plus any other depressing music you can think about sound like a ray of sunshine.  It is not the worst thing I have heard this year and it is musically competent, however it is devoid of charm or anything likeable; bit of a shame really.

4.5 out of ten - Well it is alright, but still......

Top track - Nara

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Alt-J website here

You can listen to the album on Spotify here

Here is a link for our Deezer readers

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