alt-J’s “This Is All Yours” succeeds in triumphing over the sophomore slump

Courtesy of Atlantic Records
Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Oh, the dreaded sophomore album. The album that can either make or break an indie band’s career. For most young bands coming off of a stellar first album, such as English rock band alt-J, the pressure to try and create a better album is high.

Ever since the release of their highly lauded debut album “An Awesome Wave” back in 2012, all eyes have been on guitarist and lead vocalist Joe Newman, keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton and drummer Thom Green, to see if the young British rockers could even possibly release a project superior than their first album. On alt-J’s latest release, “This Is All Yours,” the group carries on the “alt-J” sound from “An Awesome Wave” as well as distance themselves from it, further experimenting with different sounds, lyrical content and recording techniques.

One of the major differences between “An Awesome Wave” and “This Is All Yours” is the atmosphere that both albums carry. On “Intro,” the first song on their new album, listeners experience nothing but marvelously textured vocals stacked upon chopped vocal samples. As the song begins to build, vocalist Joe Newman manipulates his voice in an almost inhuman-like way, sending out mesmerizing howls and distorted verses layered upon vocal samples, bashing drums and an eerie harpsichord. The song’s minimalism creates an intimate, almost ritualistic feeling which carries on throughout the rest of the album. This sense of intimacy is most prevalent on songs such as “Arrival In Nara,” when alt-J strips away their industrialized electronic sounds for a straight acoustic experience. Standing out as one of the album’s most beautiful moments, “Arrival In Nara” takes listeners on a melancholy yet peaceful journey told through beautiful guitar and piano melodies and Newman’s angelic vocals. “Though I cannot see / I can hear her smile as she sings,” Newman croons. The song’s bare perspective highlights Newman’s talent as a songwriter, allowing listeners to focus only on the song’s story.

Even though alt-J’s exploration into acoustic sounds is dominant on “This Is All Yours,” the group continues to take more steps towards its electronic side with “Hunger Of The Pine.” With the album’s lead single, alt-J further dip their feet into the genre, using nothing but electronic sounds and melodies. The song begins with a pulsating arpeggiator, then progresses with jarring synth basslines and underlying pad melodies. Throughout “Hunger Of The Pine,” the group even samples a line from Miley Cyrus’ “4×4” throughout the chorus. While the sample choice might sound like an unusual choice, alt-J found a way to make it work. Cyrus’ loop of “I’m a Female Rebel” layered upon heavy electronic instrumentation creates a dismal atmosphere, perfectly meshing Cyrus together with Newman’s profound lyricism. “Sleeplessly embracing / yawn yearns into me / plenty more tears in the sea / and so you finally use it,” Newman hauntingly sings over Green’s breakbeat type drumming. It is here that alt-J shows it is able to transpose its melancholy atmosphere and lyricism across multiple genres of sound.

While most songs on “This Is All Yours” best demonstrate one side of alt-J’s different sounds, “Every Other Freckle” perfectly combines all of the best aspects of the group’s skillset. The standout track on the album, “Every Other Freckle” shows the more aggressive side of the English indie band, filled with vicious synth basslines and captivating drumming similar in sound to past songs like “Fitzpleasure.” What makes “Every Other Freckle” different from any of alt-J’s past songs, however, is Newman’s sensual yet ferocious vocals and lyrics. “I want to share your mouthful / I want to do all the things your lungs do so well,” the alt-J frontman croons. Newman’s lyricism and delivery are filled with passion and viciousness, captivating listeners from start to finish. “Every Other Freckle” displays alt-J at its very best and unravels new lyrical territory for Newman.

With “This Is All Yours,” alt-J has triumphed over the dreaded “sophomore slump,” creating an album that can stand toe-to-toe with its previous album. The British indie rockers are able to take a step forward while keeping a foot planted backward, experimenting with new sounds while also staying true to the “alt-J” sound fans have come to love. It is a display of the group’s ability to constantly innovate their sound while giving their fans what they love. “This Is All Yours” is the album that alt-J fans have waited for and the album new fans will thoroughly enjoy.

Rating: 4 stars

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