In the two years since the release of their debut album An Awesome Wave, alt-J have remained relatively quiet. The album was a runaway success for the group, and its avant-pop garnered comparisons to bigger acts like Radiohead. While they hadn’t quite reach the same creative peak that Thom Yorke and co. did in their prime, the album was a commercial success that saw the band win the coveted Mercury Prize and sell out sub-stadium venues across the globe. On September 22nd, the group will release their sophmore effort, This Is All Yours.
During its opening moments, This Is All Yours appears to pick up exactly where An Awesome Wave left off. “Intro” begins with one long minute of back-and-forth wordless vocal melodies, hinting at something bigger. The stark repetition and fast panning culminate in a stripped down breakbeat and more indistinguishable vocals. This slow climb eventually results in a very anticlimactic segway into the second track. “Arrival in Nara” is a minimalist piano/guitar ballad that doesn’t make use of any other instruments. It’s an interesting approach to place such a slow, brooding song this early in the record, but it also suggests that alt-J might be trying to demonstrate their range – not every song has to be overcrowded.
This Is All Yours’ strength lies in using that minimalism as a tool to get the desired feel of each song across. They can use it for the opposite effect, too – “Left Hand Free” is upbeat and radio-ready, centering around a simple guitar riff and a shuffle beat that looks back to the halcyon days of 90’s alternative radio – think Beck, Cake, and other one word superstars. It’s MOR rock that masquerades as being ‘weird’, but each instrument is clear and concise, the hooks polite enough to ensure maximum crossover. Songs like this and other equally radio friendly songs (the Miley Cyrus-sampling “Hunger Of The Pine”, especially) will undoubtedly make this record another mainstream success.
With This Is All Yours, alt-J have dialed back the busy-ness that was prevalent on their debut. The less-is-more approach works in their favour, allowing the songs more room to breathe. They’re not breaking any new ground, but every time something ‘weird’ manages to cross over should be taken as a small victory.