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Album Review

by alt-J

Infectious / Atlantic

Review Date
2nd June 2017
Reviewed by
Paul Larsen

For a group that arrived amid an awesome wave of indie bands in the early 2010s, alt-J remain uniquely identifiable - and at the same time somewhat indescribable. While Joe Newman’s vocals and the quirky constructions of long-time producer Charlie Andrew are easy enough to recognise, their unique sound can be difficult to pin down and has garnered a number of labels, from art-rock to electro-indie to folktronica. But labels are irrelevant. What’s true is that alt-J have crafted a bespoke sound built on a sense of fun, a little bit of tenderness and an ability to hit the loud pedal when required. In this respect, Relaxer is no outlier in the band’s catalogue.

Contemplative opener ‘3WW’ is striking for its sparseness, slowly building around hummed melodies and whispered lyrics before the record steps up a considerable number of gears to the rollicking ‘In Cold Blood’, which is much closer in tone to the lively ‘Left Hand Free’ from 2014’s This Is All Yours and adorned with lashings of brass and bravado, this is sure to be a treat when given the live treatment on New Zealand stages in December. Next on the bill is a reworking The Animal's 1964 classic ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Don't be mistaken, this isn’t a cover song – more of a ritual dismantling. The song is stripped right back to its lyrical foundations and re-clad as a remorseful ballad, furnished with delicate strings and plucked arpeggios. The rest of the album's 40-minute run time continues to alternate between muted ballads and epic jaunts with the playful ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ and widescreen ‘Adeline’ standing out as two highlights. Though brief and ever so occasionally aimless, when Relaxer's ambition is matched by its execution, it is an absolute joy of a record.


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