∆ alt-J – Relaxer LP

alt-J, symbolized with a ∆, released their third LP last Friday called Relaxer.  The Leeds-based English indie rock band blew everyone away with their debut album, An Awesome Wave, back in 2012, including yours truly.  However, it would be unfair to compare the two albums together, which was the trap I fell into with their sophomore effort, This Is All Yours, back in 2014.  I remember listening to that album, and coming away disappointed, not because it wasn’t good; rather, it didn’t sound like the alt-J I had come to know and love, with the strangely pitched vocals, extensive use of various instruments, and, at the time, a unique brand of rock.

Stepping away from these expectations, I find Relaxer to be on equal footing with their debut album.  If anything, there is a richness and confidence in each track, yielding several layers of, well, quite mellow and relaxing music.  I’ve always thought of their music as being quite beautiful, but they take the beauty to a next level in this album.

They released several singles previewing the album, including “3WW,” a quiet and controlled ballad that evokes images of the southwest on horseback for me for some reason.  Ellie Rowsell provides guest vocals to great effect.

The second single, “In Cold Blood,” is probably the most played on any of the indie rock stations you may listen to, probably due to the fact that is sounds like it could have been lifted off their debut album, with melodic pacing.

However, the real gems of this album can be found in their rendition of “House of the Rising Sun,” which sounds nothing like the original and is quite the better for it.  Nothing is more boring and cringe-worthy than hearing a cover of a song that tries to replicate the original note for note and word for word (please see Nada Surf’s cover of the Pixie’s “Where Is My Mind?” if you don’t believe me).  There have been a couple of covers that I have enjoyed way more than the original, and this is one of them (“Keep On Loving You” by Cigarettes After Sex is another great example).  They even include a verse that was written by the band themselves as an extra bonus and stamp of some originality with this track.

My favorite song, though, and by far is “Deadcrush,” which talks about long-dead historical figures and the band’s love affair from afar for two in particular.  “As we were finishing writing our second album, This Is All Yours, we came up with a quick jam which we luckily captured on one of our phones.  This turned into “Deadcrush,” which is a word we made up to describe someone who is no longer alive that you fancy.  Thus the first verse is about Lee Miller, Joe’s deadcrush, the second about Anne Boleyn, Gus’s.”  The song has a hipness to the falsetto crooning of the chorus (also including another collab with Ellie Rowsell), especially when followed up by the samplish phrase, “Watch me now!” which I would have sworn is a sample, but can’t verify it anywhere.

The one pitfall of the album comes with the fourth track, “Hit Me Like That Snare,” which really comes out of nowhere with this confusing California beach rock sound on an album that really has none of that…not even close.

Overall, I really enjoyed this album as it has a quiet, melodic, and overall constrained beauty to it (minus the above mentioned fourth track miss).  Definitely discover it for yourself!

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