Album review: Alt-J, “This Is All Yours”By Ashley Dean | September 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »
In a chorus of la-la-las that fall like warm rain, Alt-J returns.
The intro (“Intro”) to the highly anticipated sophomore album of the Mercury Prize-winning experimental quartet isn’t the first anyone has heard of it, though. The first sounds came, in part, from Miley Cyrus. Later into “This Is All Yours,” the band samples the “I’m a female rebel” line from her song, “4×4.” That single might be the most repeatable track on the record, but it’s far from the most unusual, the most beautiful or — well, far from the most anything on the record. “This Is All Yours” is diverse and quickly changes its mood.
“Arrival in Nara” is even soft and simple — a gently plucked guitar under a delicately harmonized melody and a lot of ohhh-ing. “Every Other Freckle” is confusing. It’s folksy, it rocks, it samba’s a little, it changes its mind and then it loses its mind. “Warm Foothills” is more purely folksy, even twee. Male and female vocals play back and forth, almost word-to-word, before harmonizing to punctuate a phrase. There’s some whistling, some twinkling piano and some light drum patter. Meanwhile, “Left Hand Free” is full of swagger, with a distinct ‘70s rock vibe.
“This Is All Yours” isn’t just sonically odd, either. “The Gospel of John Hurt,” in addition to it’s vibraphone intro and outro, includes the line, “L-shaped Tetris tile seeking somewhere, oh somewhere, to fit in.” On the other, less self-conscious hand, “Every Other Freckle” says things like, “I’m gonna turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet.” In “Bloodflood pt. II,” everything drops out for the line, “that’s the sound of the police” (without the “whoop! whoop!”). But then again, “Pusher” asks the question, “Are you a pusher or are you a puller?” It’s weirdly forcing you to contemplate some subtle but possibly meaningful (but probably not) character traits.
That song’s quiet strumming sucks you right into introspection. It could be asking if you prefer chunky or smooth peanut butter and you still might feel a little wave self-doubt. It’s the same way the sonar bleeping and drum machine clatter of “Hunger of the Pine” hypnotizes or that the buzz of “Left Hand’s Free” gives you a buzz. It’s all bizarre and sometimes nonsensical, but it still gets to you through its textures and hooks. Even when you’re thinking, “This is a little bonkers” — or worse, “They’re trying too hard” — it still just feels good to listen.
The old question of whether Alt-J is really the next Radiohead is sort of beside the point. The band started out unique enough and took a swan dive into straight-up oddball, knowing fans would jump in after. Alt-J is just doing Alt-J. The question is only whether you love it or hate it.
Ashley Dean is an editor and designer for YourHub at the Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.