Alt-J – This Is All Yours

Album, Music, Reviews September 17, 2014

Originally published and still available on Gigslutz (17/09/14).

It may have only been two years since they clasped their Barclaycard Mercury Prize, but it feels far longer since we last heard fromAlt-J. The now three-piece – who amicably parted ways with bassist Gwil Sainsbury early this year – were unexpectedly propelled into that smug little nook between being a ‘serious music lover’s gem and a commercially successful band. Their winning of the annual award threw their debut album An Awesome Wave into the shopping trolleys of many a casual listener and stockpiled the band a staggering (in this day and age) 300,000 plus sales in the process.

With Damon Albarn once describing the winning of the Mercury Prize akin to ‘wearing a dead albatross round your neck for eternity‘  it begs the question of whether Alt-J will manage to eclipse the success of their first album with the expectation of their second. In their time away, experimental contemporaries including Wild Beasts and Everything Everything have both produced stellar albums with the electronic expanse of Present Tense and the schizophrenic Arc; as such, much rests on the shoulders of This Is All Yours, and with the gears of the press machine already turning Alt-J are about to get caught up in its momentum whether they choose to or not.

If ‘Intro’ is anything to go by, This Is All Yours may prove to be a sonically meandering tale as implied by the vocal ticks, wails and lushly exotic sounds that comprise the four-minute opener. It serves its purpose well, as what follows is a succession of songs that ricochet between soothing lullabies and the buzzing charge of a band at times surprised by the sounds that they have managed to create. Songs such as ‘Arrival In Nara’, ‘Choice Kingdom’ and ‘Warm Foothills’ reveal a persisting penchant for folk that slinks beneath the often opposing barrage of noise of tracks surrounding it, and whilst these songs may be beautiful in their own right, they pale in comparison to the uncanniness of those beside.

The chimes of ‘Nara’ opens the door to a vast swathe of sound, one into which the listener is propelled further by the cavalry rumble of recent single ‘Every Other Freckle’. Underpinned by a static hum and decorated with mournful horns and beeping synths, this central component has singer Joe Newman weaving metaphors to veil his more exacting desires in his often intangible words. The lure of ‘The Gospel Of John Hurt’ is similarly complex, the hushed tones gaining all trust before abruptly switching to tribal beats and soaring vocals to create a weirdly rhapsodic experience.

There are times where this album is hard to love, but like a Pandora’s Box of secrets, with every exploration there is more and more to find in the depths of This Is All Yours. It is best encapsulated however in the digressive nature of ‘Hunger Of The Pine’, the track beeping, rattling and purring its way into false climax after false climax. At its best,This Is All Yours can be considered a textured masterpiece, one that pushes away all doubts of relevance and will no doubt succeed in crossing the traverse between underground staple and chart success (a point that is best epitomised in the Miley Cyrus sample in the latter track). With so many sounds clamouring for a prime position, it is a testament to Alt-J that they have somehow managed to placate each and every one into submission, and in doing so have created a innovative spectacle.

Read more of my writing on Gigslutz.

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