As the follow-up to the surprise hit that was An Awesome Wave, Alt-J’s new album seemed doomed to fail. Though An Awesome Wave was far from a game-changer, it was home to some of the most creative, eccentric, and inadvertently infectious art-pop and rock songs of 2012. Alt-J always came across as more playful than deliberate, which almost made their handful of fantastic songs like “Matilda”, “Fitzpleasure”, “Taro”, and “Tessellate” seem like flukes. There was, thus, a slight feeling of doubt that Alt-J had enough fuel to pull together a collection of songs as fresh and as exciting. Many, including myself, did not think that lightning would strike twice. It’s a bit of a pleasant surprise that This Is All Yours does not clumsily fall flat.
Right from the vocal harmonies that open the album, it becomes evident that Alt-J do not have a defined sense of progression in mind. Instead they stick to their consistent appreciation of sonic density as a guide. Alt-J give the impression that they do not necessarily know where to go or how to evolve from their first LP, so they focus their energy on crafting a subtle album that effortlessly pulls from various styles, such as indie pop, folk, alternative rock, and electronica. The major selling points for Alt-J are once again the crisp sound that the band creates through their diversity of instruments and percussion techniques, as well as the peculiar vocal presence of Joe Newman. The song “Nara”, for instance, encompasses Alt-J’s personality perfectly with its leisurely crescendo and ethereal vocal surges that saturate every ounce of the melody. Without a doubt, it’s all sweet on the ears.
Where An Awesome Wave reaped the benefit of multiple show-stoppers, This Is All Yours aims for a more nuanced flow. However, this flow goes slightly off course from the outset with the opener and “Arrival in Nara”, which are awkwardly competing introductions. Also, the bluesy, garage-rock influenced “Left Hand Free” feels contrived and out of place on such a mellow album. Nevertheless, the song indicates that Alt-J could write straightforward, catchy rock tunes all day if they really wanted to. Lyrically, Alt-J embrace strange imagery to drive their messages home. The line “I tie my life to your balloon and let it go“ on the clever vocal performance of “Warm Foothills” carries an emotional surrender that the remainder of the song delivers through its stream of acoustic instrumentation. Newman’s voice and the rich background vocals serve first and foremost as instruments anyway. “Every Other Freckle” is incredibly sexual in its language, yet the line that truly resonates the most is the honest phrase “You’re the first and last of your kind.” Sonically, this track feels like the spiritual sequel to “Fitzpleasure” with its invigorating explosion of guitar and drums.
On the backend, Alt-J showcase their ability to construct songs that grow organically like on “The Gospel of John Hurt”. The band also incorporates electronics effortlessly on the pulsating beat of “Hunger of the Pine.” Though not every minute of This Is All Yours is incredibly exciting, particularly toward its conclusion, the album certainly displays a pleasant array of colors that solidify Alt-J as eclectic musicians. However, what this album lacks in immediacy, it compensates for with detailed production and intriguing songs that boast replay value. From delicate pianos to fragile woodwinds, their layers of sound are fun to pick apart. Even without the same charm that elevated An Awesome Wave, Alt-J still have finesse.
This Is All Yours, in the end, is a remarkably solid album that could likely be written off as a disappointment by those looking for another massive set of underground hits. Instead, it’s nice to see such a modest album from a band that was possibly as confused as their fans were as to how a second album would pan out. Fortunately, Alt-J sound very confident in their approach to songwriting, which translates into an enjoyable listen. Alt-J haven’t faded away just yet; they still have more to say.
Every Other Freckle
The Gospel of John Hurt
Hunger of the Pine