Review Summary: A third straight masterpiece.
Every time I listen to ‘3WW’, I find myself drifting off into the same imaginary realm. I’m sitting by a large bonfire in the woods – an atmosphere alight with swirling shades of orange and purple – as sparks fly up towards the hazy evening sky and then lazily descend towards the earth, like tiny parachuting stars. The crackle of burning wood permeates the night air – this cool, crisp inhale of purity. It’s a feeling so vivid and proximate that it’s impossible not to become immersed. As an album, Relaxer
has a handful of such moments; these touchable, palatable instances of emotional transportation. Even though it is far from a cohesive work, it’s a record tied together more by its appetite for imagination than by any single overarching aesthetic. Thus, Alt-J find themselves simultaneously in their most disparate and progressive state – and the results are as breathtaking as they are bold.
hedges its bets on the strength of its unique and widely dispersed ideas. The record is not a smooth listen, jumping from acoustic folk ballad to psych-garage rocker to full-on hymnal, but every moment feels so rich and engaging that it thrives anyway despite appearing as a conglomeration of pieces taken from various puzzle sets. At its worst, ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ packs a Velvet Ungerground-esque punch only with a cringe worthy, juvenile outro. At its best – take your pick
– Alt-J seems to hover above mortality on some otherworldly plane. ‘3WW’ is like camping out in another galaxy, ‘Adeline’ builds to a haunting, almost Zeppelin-like wail, the plodding progression and weighty subject matter of ‘Last Year’ will draw tears, and the closing ‘Pleader’ ascends to angelic vocal heights never before heard from Joe Newman. The band will also raise quite a few eyebrows with their take on ‘House of the Rising Sun’, combining the track’s legendary opening verse with original lyrics about the narrator’s alcoholic father – and pulling it all off magnificently. The good heavily outweighs the questionable on Relaxer
, and with some jaw-dropping moments to boot, there’s little to complain about despite the album’s eclecticism and brevity.
What truly elevates Relaxer
for me is that it finally feels like Alt-J is extending their creative reach. In an industry driven by consumerism, it is all too easy to find a formula that works and become complacent. Not everyone will enjoy the way that Relaxer
bounces between ideas, but one thing that is self-evident from this record’s experimentation is that they are capable of executing just about any style they want to. Often it’s the subtlest of indicators – the horns that add a theatrical flair to ‘In Cold Blood’, the funky groove and falsetto in the chorus of ‘Deadcrush’ – that assure us whatever dream Alt-J ends up chasing, they’ll make it their own and endow it with traits to make it uniquely rewarding. Hell, it’s why they can get away with covering ‘House of the Rising Sun’ and only get some
is Alt-J’s identity crisis, but it has to be the best damn one I’ve ever heard.