I just want to love you in my own language.
After their debut An Awesome Wave in 2012 the band proved themselves to be maybe not one of the best bands but definitely one of the most unique bands, and had a specific sound to it that could only be associated with them, however sometimes I have difficulty pinpointing exactly what it is. Using a cowbell instead of a hi hat in most of their songs, the very nasal singing style of Joe Newman, or the way they blend hip-hop/rock/folk so effortlessly.
RELAXER‘s probably the album I’ve been looking forward to most when it was announced, after their first single, 3WW. Which was unlike anything I’d ever expect out of an alt-J song. There’s a beautiful intro which lasts for just over 1 and a half minutes, which perfectly sets the tone for the album. The constant cello which acts as a drone in the background against the soft picking of the guitar, accompanied by a smooth shaker and click for percussion. At this point I’m not that interested about the meaning of the lyrics as much as I want to hear some vocals, which pays off, not only because they have kept their singing style of switching so easily between Joe Newman and Gus Unger Hamilton, but also they feature a guest vocalist, Ellie Rowsell, from Wolf Alice, whose voice goes down so bitterly in this song.
Another featured vocalist, Marika Hackman, crawls into the song on the second half of Last Year, a peaceful acoustic and very soothing track, which yet somewhat feels like it could be played in a massive cathedral with a large choir of many Joe Newmans.
A favourite of mine is their cover of House Of The Rising Sun, completely disregarding the original song and only focusing on their own interpretation of it, which feels like it brings completely new context to the original song. The instrumental is a mixture of guitar finger picking and a string section, difficult to differentiate between the two, with just a very subtle bass line in the background.
Not all the songs apply to the title though. This is clearly shown in the song Hit Me Like That Snare in which Joe attempts to sing like Johnny Rotten, the most confusing lyrics over a fast paced, weirdly mixed track, with the drums and guitars never in one place in the mix, and odd female vocals in the background appearing to be screaming or moaning.
Deadcrush is probably going to be the one that attracts most people. Possibly the smoothest beat I’ve heard this year. A beat composed of a repetitive bass line, and some soft hisses and breaths that you can barely tell apart. Combined with weird background vocals and subtle chill guitar strumming, everything about this song is catchy.
The second single In Cold Blood really confused me. The album was going to be called ‘RELAXER’ and we did get a relaxing, calm first single, but In Cold Blood was not really relaxing, but more of a traditional alt-J song that felt like it could belong more in the first album. Seeing that the track was going to be right next to 3WW, it was more confusing being told that their next album was going to be called RELAXER and then seeing a relaxing song right next to a banger of a track. However I guess it works if you give it more listens. It would have made sense to have all the chill tracks back to back and then the more banger songs put together.
alt-J have always said they want their music to be headphone music, and this really is headphone music. I really, really like it but you really need the right headspace to listen to it. It’s a really inconsistent record. Which is good, sometimes.