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Album Review: alt-J – RELAXER

2 min read
Photo: Mushroom Promotions

If I were to write something in CAPITAL LETTERS, you may well think I was shouting it at you and your fellow readers. With this in mind, it is interesting that English trio alt-J have entitled their third album RELAXER, with the forceful tone arising from the capitalisation of the word contrasting with its literal definition. Whether this juxtaposition is simply the product of aesthetic design decisions or is an intentional irony is not readily clear to the listener, even after repeated listenings.

RELAXER opens with the performative 3WW – standing for ‘three worn words’ – which starts out with a laid-back, folksy guitar riff that forms the track’s central motif. About half-way through the song shifts tone, and while this doesn’t quite mesh together as well as it could the shift isn’t offensively disjointed, and everything links back to the core motif soon enough for the outro. It is a tight five-minute number that feels like it is completed in a fraction of that time.

Adeline is another, longer track that sees alt-J draw upon the timeless concepts of repetition and variation, with the percussive elements demonstrating solid progression and development. While the lyrics fail to live up to the pretensions of the drawn out vocal delivery, the song has an overall aural quality that is worthy of the audience’s time. Not all of RELAXER’s longer compositions manage to be successful though, with the six-minute Last Year being largely forgetful, and Pleader’s pleasing contemporary-classical sound proving interesting until the vocals start-up.

The line “fuck you I’ll do what I want to do” from the indie meets garage rock of Hit Me Like A Snare may very well sum up both that track and the album as a whole, as it follows its whims regarding musical direction, having its good moments but never quite holding it all together. alt-J have always been a little unexpected in the musical delivery, but unlike their previous efforts RELAXER lacks the ‘oomph’ to engage the audience as anything more than an intellectual exercise.