Music review: alt-J ‘This Is All Yours’

Eclectic genre-swapping, stylistically peculiar production and other music unconventionalities are implemented throughout the 14 tracks of alt-J’s second album This Is All Yours, which was released last Tuesday.

As an enthusiast of British rock trio alt-J’s debut album, An Awesome Wave, I preordered This Is All Yours on vinyl in June when it first became available, certain that I would not be disappointed by the group that impressed me considerably just a year ago.

When it arrived in the mail, I opened it to discover vibrant and entrancing album artwork. The streaks of paint in bright colors preface the listener to the array of musical sounds they are about to experience.

While this album at times has a different sound than An Awesome Wave, it is similar in the fact that every track of the album is composed of little bits of unexplored musical devices that assemble to create an alluring work of music.

Auto-Tune, electronic production, layered vocals, harmonies, a capella, distortion, Celtic sounds, sitar use, Native chanting and other unidentifiable sounds are in continuous use, which makes the album enthralling and unforgettable.

The surprises begin with the first single “Hunger of the Pine,” which features a sample of pop star Miley Cyrus’ song 4×4. Such a sample would be assumed to be out of place on an indie-rock album, but alt-J makes the sample work for the track as an attention grabber. While this sample works for the track musically, Miley’s lyrics “I’m a female rebel” have no pertinence to “Hunger of the Pine” itself – alt-J could have selected from a number of other samples that could have suited the song more effectively.

The most disappointing track on the album is “Left Hand Free” which has developed into the album’s first radio hit. Ironically, it is the “radio-hit” quality of generic rock instrumentals and lack of depth that fuel my distaste for it. In alt-J’s defense, this track was written as a response to their record label’s request for catchier radio-friendly songs, and alt-J themselves consider the song an effortless piece.

This album has many more mellow songs than the last, which is disappointing because it was the fast pace of An Awesome Wave that made it so lively. However, the mellowest song on the album, “Warm Foothills” is by far my favorite. alt-J’s Joe Newman and vocalist Lianne La Havas sing a duet in sentence-finishing style that blends so well, that, at times, it is hard to determine which one is singing. Vocals by musician Conor Oberst are also spliced into a complete and simple, but fulfilling, piece.

Interludes between tracks are a secret weapon of alt-J’s. This Is All Yours contains two interludes that are musically appealing, but do little for the songs they are bridging, unlike the interludes on the first album, which serve as supports that contribute to the quality of the album as a whole.

The lyrics are overall unimpressive – if you can even understand them. alt-J relies heavily on production and instrumentals, with intentionally pitchy, whiney or mumbled-sounding vocals. The lyrics cannot be easily deciphered without actually reading them, and when read, they often prove to be strange, shallow or disturbing, taking away from the beauty of the music. It is for this reason that I have not yet done a close listening of the lyrics, and I am not sure that I plan to.

With An Awesome Wave as an older sibling, this album does not quite live up to its legacy. But when standing alone, This Is All Yours is an incredibly unique and memorable album.

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