Alt J – Relaxer Review

Alt J’s album opens with the excellent 3WW, a song that I hoped would have set the tone for the rest of the album, however these expectations are never quite met.

The lyrics on this song are especiall a high point of the album, and echos discussions my girlfriend and I have had about the word ‘love.’

Oh, these three worn words//Oh, that we whisper//Like the rubbing hands//Of tourists in Verona//I just want to love you in my own language

House Of The Rising Sun, despite possibly insulting fans of the classic, sounds quite different, something I’m always grateful for in a cover, with its warm string arrangement reminiscent of something by Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The song however doesn’t really go anywhere, and unfortunately fizzles out by the end.

This is a problem for many of the songs on here, and in the last three songs this is especially apparent. Most meander and plod, only for a beautiful arrangement to come out somewhere in the middle, and for the song to disappear again, leaving a lot to be desired. The way the songs do this reminds me of Mark Hollis’ solo album, but whereas the sparsity felt deliberate and intentional there, Alt-J gives the feeling that they almost don’t know what to do with the space they’ve allocated for the song. This is especially evident on the song Last Year, where it feels like the first half of the song could have been, and should have been cut out.

It’s a very cold and minimal album a lot of the time, with the only lively songs being In Cold Blood and Hit Me Like That Snare – what feels like a Rolling Stones or Velvet Underground knock-off. However, the latter does feel incredibly out-of-place here – and so did Left Hand Free on the last album, but this one even more so.

At 39 minutes, the album feels somehow both drawn out and short at the same time. This may be due to the strong instrumental nature to the songs. They take a long time to build up, and because of this the album can feel like barely anything happened at all. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing for those who want a soft, mellow album. However, with only eight songs, it feels like the album would have benefitted majorly from a few extra songs, or at least some interludes to put some cohesion in between the songs that are juxtaposed harshly, or maybe even to draw a narrative, to further make sense of the collection. A narrative that Alt-J seemed to be hinting at in the lead up to the release – especially with the albums interesting artwork – but never really came to be.

Score: 6/10