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Alt-j’s This is All Yours

Posted on the 25 September 2014 by Thewildhoneypie @thewildhoneypie

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For a debut as formidable as An Awesome Wave, alt-J handles their follow-up with ease — extreme ease — and it seems that their loose composure may be leading to some unease among fans. I admit that upon first nervous listen, I was underwhelmed. Caught off guard by the slow start, my mind began to wander on past the singles and on into…a flute interlude? So I stopped it right there and grabbed my headphones. A few minutes into my second closed-off and attentive listen, my sigh of relief and sheer pleasure had to have been audible. This is All Yours is, indeed, a much gentler spin on their oddly inventive pop, but the enchantment absolutely continues where their debut left off. So yes, that flute interlude is there and is fairly painful, but don’t believe for a second that the (now) trio gives in to any form of “sophomore slump,” which is total rubbish anyway. No, introspection activates alt-J’s off-kilter sorcery once more, just in a different light.

The album’s first single, “Hunger of the Pine”, samples a Miley Cyrus line (“I’m a female rebel”) amidst tense electronic tones and dreamy lyrics, showcasing exactly what the album does so well — it manages to be both really playful and absolutely ravishing. alt-J are playful in their plentiful boyish come-ons: “Yes I’m gonna roll around you like a cat rolls around sawdusted patios/I’m gonna kiss you like the sun browns you.” It’s especially apparent in the surprisingly traditional, Southern rock-tinged “Left Hand Free” (dubbed “the least alt-J song ever” by the band) that toys with the idea of a jealous lover with a shotgun. In their more straight-faced moments, alt-J’s fleshy, often gory metaphors come off as sincere and seriously sexy. “Heat shimmers/Hips quiver/Open smother/Lipped lover,” Joe Newman delicately mumbles in “Bloodflood Pt. 2”, picking up where its prequel left off on An Awesome Wave.

When they’re not romancing, they’re dropping curious references to things like John Hurt’s infamous Alien death scene, Blue is the Warmest Colour (“Love is the warmest color”), The Rolling Stones’ “Petrol Blues”, Aslan from C.S. Lewis’ famous children’s series and more. The narratives take us to strange, beautiful places. There’s a song from the perspective of a gay man desiring nothing more than to marry his “prize” — “a man like no other man” — and another track that sings of a drowning girl who chooses to use her last breaths to sing because it’s what she loves — “and though I cannot see/I can hear her smile as she sings.” Bizarre yet gorgeous — and that is alt-J in a phrase.

Sonically, This Is All Yours isn’t as immediately appealing as An Awesome Wave, but it’s just as quirky. Their sound spans genres, as they pick and choose their favorite pieces and gracefully force them together. Alt-J thrives on precision, so there are lots of tightly-timed drum rhythms along with perfectly positioned effects that provide texture to the otherwise sturdy, mostly acoustic, sometimes electric guitar lines. Of course, there’s also deft electronics via Gus Unger-Hamilton. The pastoral “Warm Foothills” finds collaboration efforts from Conor Oberst, Sivu, Lianne La Havas and most prominently (to my great excitement) Marika Hackman, who trades off phrases with Newman for its entirety. This is All Yours teases the urge to dance at times, but far less than its predecessor with a focus more on the overall experience than the instant-gratification from a wide-angle view over a close-up.

To take that film metaphor a bit further, An Awesome Wave felt stylish and dark, zooming in on our favorite actors’ facial expressions at surprising moments. It was more “exciting.” This is All Yours opts for scenery over surprise, leaning heavily on our weakness for cinematic lighting and heart-stopping landscapes. We return because we want to live inside its aesthetic. An Awesome Wave was entertaining, but This is All Yours takes that same fun vibe and stretches it, making for a way more expansive album that makes us wonder what’s going to happen when they combine both exciting and expansive. Taking a note from alt-J, though, we are not worried.

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