Alt-J - This Is All Yours
by Emily Pratten
It’s been two years since the release of the Mercury Prize-winning record, An Awesome Wave, from Alt-J. Now they’re back with their second LP and they have an awful lot to live up to, with the utterly original and wholly impressive debut earning the band an incredibly loyal fan-base and excellent critical reception across the board. However, This Is All Yours does not disappoint. And you can be sure of that after hearing just the Intro.
This album is unstable, unbalanced, disjointed, and almost chaotic in places. These words are anything but negative. It’s astonishing how outlandish hooks and baffling snippets of sounds can appear at once so random and yet so deliberate. Intro goes through so many different phases in the opening four minutes it should be a car crash, but it’s just not. It’s innovative and creative and for some unknown reason it works stupidly well. That’s another word I think I would use to describe this album. It’s stupidly good. It’s stupidly weird. It’s stupidly beautiful. It’s just stupid.
As with An Awesome Wave I imagine that this is an album that will only get better the more and more you listen to it. At first glance it’s hard to know what’s going on and you never know where the next ten seconds are going to take you. After repeated listening the loyal fan will come to know these songs in all their weirdness and wonder, and they will surely become even more rewarding and enjoyable. Slow starting Arrival In Nara precedes track three which is simply named Nara, surprisingly enough. Halfway through this song features both a heavy guitar movement, synth, and what sounds like a child playing the triangle. I’m going to skip the opportunity to make a ‘triangles are my favourite shape’-type Dad joke and just move swiftly on. Like the album does, really. You never stop in one place for very long before you’re lifted somewhere else.
It’s difficult at this point to select any stand-out tracks - largely because they’re all so good. It’s also hard, at times, to pick any stand-out lyrics because, as with An Awesome Wave, the first few times you hear it it’s hard to understand the vowel sounds that are being hurled against such an intricately layered backing. Every Other Freckle is perhaps one of the most accessible songs, not including the lyric:
I’m gonna turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet.
Romantic? Strange? Take it as you will. The whole thing is up to interpretation.
That’s another thing that makes this album great. Forget what you think you know about traditional songwriting because this band aren’t catering to a mainstream audience, despite arguably having drawn one. It’s a postmodern labyrinth of tribal harmonies and gentle piano and intricate electronic mazes. There’s birdsong and church bells in places. There is a recorder interlude (Garden Of England). Yes. A recorder. That awful plastic flute thing every five year old in Britain wields around proudly having just perfected the classic that is Hot Cross Buns.
The more mellow track, Choice Kingdom, follows before stuttering into Hunger Of The Pine, a track that starts slow and builds up phenomenally well, propelled onwards by a Miley Cyrus sample from her song, 4x4:
I’m a female rebel.
It is followed by one of my favourites, Warm Foothills. NME described the vocals in this track as ‘cut and paste’, a reference I feel that the Internet generation will very much enjoy. It’s also very true. Conor Oberst, Sivu, and Lianne La Havas are the artists selected to add vocal snippets to this soft, joyful and of course, remarkably intricate tune. It contains perhaps the least annoying whistling I have ever heard.
It’s slightly less anthemic and guitar-y than their debut effort, with the exception of Left Hand Free which wouldn’t be out of place on a Black Keys album. It’s more natural and free-flowing and perhaps more moody than An Awesome Wave, focusing less on geometry and precision and more on a pastoral, natural theme. Trademark ‘spelling the lyrics rather than singing the actual words’ features again in The Gospel Of John Hurt; this track is probably the one that would fit in most easily with the previous album. Die hard fans will be rewarded by Bloodflood Pt. II as familiar lyrics and sounds reappear, moulded and reworked and restructured to make for a very impressive sequel.
I don’t know whether to describe this album as artsy or as a concept album, because doing so allows people to throw words such as ‘pretentious’ and ‘unnecessary’ and ‘arrogant’ into the mix. I won’t have it. Who knows what the album means or what it aims to achieve? It is certainly one of, if not the best, album of the year. I don’t know why we expected anything less. As I said previously, it’s just stupidly good. It’s stupid.