Often imitated and ripe for parody, Alt-J have been forging their way towards a genre defining legacy over the past five years. Their mix of unexpected and experimental alt-pop have propelled them to unrivaled heights within the genre, far outlasting the ‘flavour of the month’ hyperbole bestowed upon them by many media outlets since their debut album, An Awesome Wave. That tenacity and fearless experimental approach has done them well, with every release taking their sonic landscapes in new, unexpected directions.
Their third album, Relaxer is another mix of the weird and wonderful, and therein lies the real testament to the band’s deep-rooted innovation – it revels in diversity, yet remains so unmistakably, Alt-J.
Things begin incredibly gently with opening track, ‘3WW’ – it’s a brave start. A one and a half-minute introduction featuring a soft percussive acoustic based instrumental which draws us into a romantic vocal collaboration between John Newman and guest vocalist Ellie Roswell (Wolf Alice). The track is steeped in metaphor; “Love is just a button we press” and “Like the rubbing hands of tourists in Verona”, before the sweetly sung line of “I just want to love you in my own language” takes us away from the theme of ‘worn love’, hitting you with something incredibly profound.
It’s with second track, ‘In Cold Blood’ when ‘classic Alt-J’ emerges; dynamic and ever changing crescendos fueled by a wonderful horn section. Deep layers of instrumental tie in neatly with a huge ‘La la la’ vocal hook. ‘In Cold Blood’ is that big, bold and intense Alt-J crowd pleaser ripping through the calm and sweet atmosphere set up by ‘3WW’.
Never afraid to experiment with new sounds and textures, Relaxer constantly throws up fresh ideas. ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ is a loud and quirky track, with an almost bizarre Japanese sound, while ‘Deadcrush’ is simply bad-ass. Bassy, fast paced and catchy – it moves in its own direction displaying the depth in vocal variations of both Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton.
However, Relaxer isn’t without more of those softer moments – ‘Last Year’ and ‘Adeline’ both bringing back the understated moments heard in opener ‘3WW’. ‘Adeline’ is steeped in dynamic progression – from reverberant and hushed vocal harmonies progressing into sweeping cinematic and orchestral second half, while ‘Last Year’ further utilises delicate vocals with a dainty acoustic backing.
Relaxer is the culmination of the band’s work towards defining a genre. Despite setting themselves up as a band so predictable in their unpredictability, Alt-J have still managed to deliver an album full of surprises. It takes intelligence and true innovation to stay this ahead of the curve, and with Relaxer they are showing little sign of letting the rest catch up.
Relaxer is out on June 2nd via Infectious Music.