“The song came out of nowhere.” It’s no surprise that when describing the fourth song on their newest album, RELAXER, the alternative rock band, alt-J, said the song was a product of the band simply messing around in the studio, stringing loose ends together to make something work. The same can possibly be said about nearly every song in the Cambridge-based group’s collective repertoire. Blending the guitar riffs of Radiohead and the oddity of Pink Floyd, while blurring their lyrics to near-incomprehensibility, alt-J seems to be always strumming up something completely unexpected. While their newest studio album, out June 2nd, might be an utter curveball from their past releases, RELAXER remains ever-teeming with fantastic promise.
Releasing their first two singles from the album early on, I saw two sides of the folk-rock trio from Leeds that I’d come to appreciate from their previous endeavors. The first was the evident foot-tapping momentum of their single ‘In Cold Blood,’ reminiscent of the band’s past tackles with more upbeat hits like ‘Fitzpleasure’ and ‘Left Hand Free.’ With the blaring brass section at Abbey Road studios in London backing up frontman Joe Newman’s riveting and throaty vocals, while the single might string a tale of grim mass murder, it undeniably has the inner workings of a chart-topping hit.
The second side I saw in the album’s other top hit, ‘3WW,’ was the group’s slow, meditative and often seductive, sense of storytelling. With the song tracing the adventures of a wayward lad during a night on England’s northeast coast, it develops a gradual gallop before igniting into its symphonic and thought-provoking chorus. Acting as a sort-of precursor to the reflective nature of forthcoming songs of the album like ‘Adeline’ and ‘Last Year.’ ‘3WW’ managed to breath even more life into alt-J’s ever-evolving cinematic flavor of songwriting.
Beyond the trio of singles the band released before the official release date, I found myself at first doubting the true potential of alt-J’s latest album. With songs ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ and ‘Deadcrush’ throwing me off on my first listen, I eventually warmed up to their strange melodies, as I saw the band exploring more and more ambitious methods of creating music. Crafting an elaborate palette of ideas, meant to evoke a rainbow of emotional reactions from their listeners, alt-J’s newest collection proved to be an effective catalyst for more to come.
Becoming an odd mix of space-funk, gentle folk and symphonic majesty, RELAXER will most likely be one of the strangest albums I will listen to in 2017. Evoking the likes of Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Fleet Foxes and many others, while tossing their own wrench into the conventions of 21st-century music, alt-J remains a spectacle of a band, even when their music might seem almost like pure nonsense.
RELAXER is out now in stores and on iTunes. Alt-J includes lead singer/guitarist Joe Newman, keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamltion and drummer Thom Green.