This Is All Yours
Alt-J - 2014
I’ve been holding off writing this review for quite a while. Alt-J’s music is the type that requires many, many listens before you can really have a fair opinion about it. You can’t listen to the first minute of each track, click ahead, and consider yourself informed on the album. That’s the appeal of music with this level of depth.
By “depth” I don’t necessarily mean that it’s a forgone conclusion that this band will put out a 4 star album. No band, other than The Beatles I suppose, can just pump out classic albums whenever they want. What I mean by depth is that before even hearing an Alt-J album, you can be sure that A LOT of effort has gone into what you are about to experience. The bass tones are going to be deep, the instrumentation will be varied and interesting, the song structures will be on their terms, and nothing will really be off-limits. They are going to be creative, and they are going to challenge you.
All of that being said, a band still needs strong songwriting, and more importantly to connect with their listeners. (You’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this by now) If there are “points” to be taken away from This Is All Yours, it would be in those areas. They bring it upon themselves inherently in their style of music. They are asking the listener to invest effort into their music, and in doing so, will have a lot of people miss their point.
The band’s first album, An Awesome Wave, was stellar from beginning to end. The themes in the lyrics weren’t easy to decipher, and the songs were challenging, but it worked regardless. When a connection is made, you can be singing about almost anything and have it be completely compelling. An Awesome Wave also benefitted from Alt-J being new to all of us. Their debut appeared in our world seemingly out of nowhere. It’s rare that a band’s debut has a sound that is SO unique and SO fully formed. The vocal melodies, song structures, production,…..just about everything was fresh to our ears. They don’t have that advantage anymore. Now they are burdened with the task of following up their Mercury Prize winning debut...
When Radiohead followed Ok Computer with Kid A, they were already a veteran band with longtime fans, who were looking to them to blow their minds. Their only real option after an accomplishment like OK was to go in a drastic direction, and they did that. Alt-J is only putting out their second album here, so they shouldn’t be expected to make a 180 wit their sound, and they don’t. Now, the good thing about Alt-J is that their sound includes expecting the unexpected to some extent. Electronics, samples, acapella sections, crazy bass tones, angular guitars, or the kitchen sink are all fair game. That being said, it’s still "their sound" and we’re now familiar with it, so continuing that on this second album loses some impact. There are a few exceptions however, and some work well, while others don’t.
“Hunger Of The Pine” does work well. It’s a very Alt-J track, with it’s super low bass foundation and layered vocals. They throw a big curveball here though by including a Miley Cyrus sample. Yep, that’s correct. Miley Cyrus. The thing about it though is that A) it sounds great in the song, and B) I would have no clue that it was Miley Cyrus if everybody didn’t make such a big deal out of it. Now, to be honest the only Cyrus song I could say that I actually know is “Party In The USA”, which should give you an indication about how out of that loop I am. (I know she has a song, or album maybe, called Wrecking Ball. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it though) Anyway, it doesn’t make a any difference if it’s Miley Cyrus as long as it serves the song.
They also deviate from their norm on the single “Left Hand Free”, with it’s much more typical rock sound, and this doesn’t work all that well. The main hook almost sound like an alternative band in the 90’s. The track led fans to speculate that Alt-J were trying to intentionally appeal to a more radio friendly base, or that a record company requested a single to spoon feed to the public. The band denies that of course, but regardless of the intentions, it doesn’t work. We all expect more from them, which we do get through a lot of the album.
I’ll wrap this up soon, I promise….
"Hunger Of The Pine” is the standout.
“Every Other Freckle” is also quite good.
“Pusher” is an acoustic ballad the way only Alt-J can do it.
“Intro” had me thinking that this would be another classic album. It starts the album with a building vocal section that adds instruments and layers for about 2 and half minutes before that bass drops and the drums pound in. It’s not a “song” so much as a perfect beginning to a 7 course meal.
The not so good...
“Left Hand Free” - See above
“Warm Foothills” - it strikes me as a pretentious ballad that tries to either expand on a story that I’m not following, or be their attempt to write a Peter Gabriel song. It’s not necessary.
“Bloodfoot Pt.II” is interesting, but it’s not as strong a song, so it’s just really filler here"
When This Is All Yours is good, it’s very good, but when you aspire to write such challenging music, you’re going to miss your target as well. I would say that it needs some editing to shave off the filler, but they’d need 1-2 additional songs to keep the album a full journey. I think they just had a couple of misses here. I can’t really complain about that too much, since it’s obvious that they haven’t lost their creativity or ambition. They began their career with a grand slam in their first at bat, and while not it’s equal, this album is a worthy follow up.Tambe Back