Thursday, September 18, 2014

This is All Yours | alt-J


★★☆☆☆

With viral hipster-approved hits like "Tessellate" and "Breezeblocks" credited to their name, you'd have to be living under a rock to have not already heard of British alternative band alt-J. After being awarded the infamous Barclaycard Mercury Prize for their 2012 debut album, An Awesome Wave, and bidding farewell to bassist Gwil Sainsbury, alt-J continued work on the follow-up to their monumental debut. However, now that the time has come for the release of the band's sophomore effort, This is All Yours, have the remaining members of alt-J already found themselves hitting a rut in the long and winding musical road?

Extensive influences are scattered through This is All Yours, but like the movable arm of a cheap action figure, experimental alternative rock can only be bent in so many directions before it breaks apart and is no longer of any use. Even the opening "Intro" track foreshadows a disorganized slew of sounds as it first toys with the fact that we live in the era of full stereo audio by alternating slurs and chants between left and right channels before resolving to an orchestrated pandemonium of beats and patterns. Sadly, these strange beats have already proved to be even messier for the band while trying to perform the new material on stage, which is especially clear in their recent live set promoting the album for National Public Radio.

The most successful outings within this set come in varied, but focused, forms, ranging from the eerie, Miley Cyrus-sampling "Hunger of the Pine," to the gun-slingin', American Dream-chasin' "Left Hand Free." However, counteracting with "Pine" and "Free" are plenty of tracks that overstayed their welcome. In an attempt to create a serene, calming atmosphere, some tracks are overproduced and stretched to a point that allows the album to easily slip into a dirge ("Arrival to Nara," "Choice Kingdom"). Having the opposite problem, the band's jab at an acoustic target, "Pusher," yearns for more sound to back up Newman's paper-thin upper-register screeches and the wobbly dips into his signature chest voice.

The band is still trying to use the writing style that sparked the frenzy around An Awesome Wave, but that style seems to have lost its original spark. The band has somehow managed to water down their hearty stew of mind-boggling lyrics while mirroring subject matters from their last album. Obsession and sexuality oozes from every angle of "Every Other Freckle," perhaps to the point that it's just downright dirty ("I want to turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet"), while in "The Gospel of John Hurt," there's a Tetris name-drop before a slur of lyrics about the fictional death of a movie character played by John Hurt: "Oh, coming out of the woodwork / Chest bursts like John Hurt / Coming out of the woods."

This is All Yours portrays an alt-J that is trying too hard to be, well, alt-J. In other words, the band has desperately tried to make another trendsetting suite, but delivers a lukewarm pile of moans and chants. Great tracks ("Hunger of the Pine," "Every Other Freckle," "Nara") help mask the others that would easily fade into the scenic white noise of independent record store soundtracks ("Choice Kingdom" especially comes to mind), but the extraneous instrumentation and hazy production techniques that are plastered on every track can't mask the disorganization of this album's core. Let's just hope that this is the result of the feared sophomore slump and not a direct result of the rumored Mercury Prize curse.

This is All Yours will be released on September 23 under Atlantic Records and Canvasback Records.

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