Album Review: Alt-J – ‘Relaxer’

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Adding to their legacy of beautiful chaos, Alt-J’s new album Relaxer really hits the spot.

It features more voices than ever, and its sounds are everything but ordered. Accentuated instrumentals and often isolated vocals create a dynamic, yet calming experience, as promised by the album’s title. All eight songs appeal to many different sets of emotions, and each tells a story about some rarely discussed human experience.

Alt-J have become quite famous over the past few years, but didn’t give in to the mainstream. They don’t adhere to the demands of the industry, and never compromise. Even the most pop-sounding song from the album, ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’, almost feels like a joke, a parody of the clichéd pop-rock song often heard on the radio; it might even be seen as their response to becoming more widely recognised in pop culture. The words of the song, however, couldn’t be further from the norm – they sing about the younger generation’s sexual awakening and even make nods to queer sex. Other songs explore different themes, such as depression and suicide in ‘Last Year’ which combines male and female vocals to recount the last year in a man’s life and his lover’s pain after he is gone. ‘House of the Rising Sun’, a cover of a song from 1964, deals with a young boy’s troubled family – his father is a gambler and a drunk, his mother desperate for change. Another important motif in the album is remembering former happiness, and this is central to the final song ‘Pleader’.

The unique combination of thought-provoking lyrics and compelling vocals makes this album the band’s most interesting work yet. Besides telling some great tales and inducing a variety of emotions, it even gives some practical advice (for instance, why counting to ten in Japanese is not a good idea for a safe word). With its diversity, the album proves that not all music has to be about love for it to be good, and why Alt-J will never be mainstream but will always rule the indie scene.

P.S. I will fight anyone who says that ‘In Cold Blood’ is the new ‘Breezeblocks’.

[N. A]

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