Album Review: Alt-J – This Is All Yours (2014 LP)

With every new release, there stands the universal question “Will it be as good as their last?”. This is often the biggest hurdle faced when producing a sophomore album, even more so for bands such as Alt-J who broke the scene with their debut An Awesome Wave. Two years later and without the presence of founding member Gwil Sainsbury, we are presented with This Is All Yours. So is it as good as their last?

The opening track “Intro” holds serious promise, pouring out those quirky samples and harmonies, winding in sounds almost like a homage to their previous album. However as it slides into “Arrival in Nara”, you have to glance at your media player to check if you had accidentally left shuffle on. A beautiful song nonetheless appealing to that soft, sweet, soulful side of Alt-J, it feels out of place as a follow up. It is quite the mellow tune to be placed at the opening of the album, especially after the pace of their “Intro”. And I’m not entirely sure the fly buzzing in the last second was worth editing in. “Nara” brings it back however; it’s a little bit of the Alt-J we’ve come to know and love, combined with the sound we had already heard coming through the album’s featured singles. One of these singles, “Every Other Freckle”, follows and again showcases that truly stylised approach to production, everything is so out there that it works, from the choir sample, to the Nintendo-esque coin sound effect.

“Left Hand Free”, despite the rumours it was a sell out to commercialism, was straight up my favourite track coming into this album. If you’re not convinced, drive out to your nearest highway with your windows down and let it loose. A little under halfway through, the album could do without “Garden of England” to be honest. It’s an odd interlude that comes across as artificial as you’re treated to a pan flute amidst a garden ambience and distracts from the flow of the album that had been developing so far.

As always the narrative behind the tracks runs along romanticised and sometimes brutal themes, somewhat reflected in “Arrival in Nara”, as drowning is once again intended but made beautiful. The album is full of longing, from fighting for love in “Left Hand Free” to straight out hungering for it in “Hunger Of The Pine”, it pulls you into each track and keeps you coming back.

“Warm Foothills” is something very different… and it’s very good. Already showing signs of venturing into the more traditionally melodic structure early on in the album, the song interweaves vocals from a number of artists including Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes. It’s delivers a sound we don’t hear anywhere else on the album – though fits in perfectly. They deliver once again in the next track, “The Gospel of John Hurt”, which has become one of my favourites. It eases gradually into this intense build up as it repeats a chanting chorus line. Ominously reported as a tribute to Hurt’s scene in Alien, a moment that apparently stood with Newman, it plays off that twanging guitar and layering vocals used throughout the album.

A wonderfully stripped back acoustic “Pusher” sings of relationships and their intricacies while still presenting that twist on Alt-J lyricism with lines like ‘We could hold hands for fifteen minutes in the sauna’. “Bloodflood Pt II” is at it seems, a total rework of the original while combining a club mix-like opening with eerie chorus and intermittent piano accompaniment. Closing the Nara journey is “Leaving Nara” a short haunting sound, successfully delivering the three sides of this album… as we know Alt-J are all about their symbolic triangle.

Overall, every track was well produced with the signature bold, provoking lyricism, wistful harmonies and quirky samples. It is every bit the Alt-J we know while still being bold and original. Standing at fourteen longer-than-traditional songs, it is a lengthy album that manages to maintain your engagement. But it doesn’t have me wrapped up in an other-worldly stasis like An Awesome Wave did just yet. Perhaps it needs time to grow on you, become familiar before you are immersed. There just isn’t the consistency that ran through their debut. It was all about that unique voice, the rising melodies and strange collaborative sounds that still melded together to create an intricate story. That being said, Alt-J have shown strong influence in This Is All Yours, and it will be interesting to see where they take these new directions. I for one can’t wait.

Review Score 8.3 out of 10

This Is All Yours is available now.


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