Album Review: alt-J – RELAXER (2017 LP)

UK indie-rockers alt-J first sent shock waves through the music world back in 2012, following the release of their debut album An Awesome Wave. Pocketing a Mercury Music Prize, an Ivor Novello ‘Album Award’ for songwriting and three BRIT award nominations, the band quickly rose to international acclaim, hooking listeners far and wide with their unique fusion of electronic, folk and guitar music.

Having quickly gained a cult following, the 2014 release of their second album This Is All Yours was received in raptures across the globe, earning a grammy nomination and a Madison Square Garden sell out. A little over two years later, the UK lads are back with a vengeance, having released their highly anticipated third album, RELAXER. A theatrical masterpiece, the immersive eight track, forty minute affair is fiercely dynamic with provocative lyrics, versatile vocals and boldly experimental soundscapes that will have listeners shaking in their boots.

Always willing to get weird and push the boundaries, alt-J have yet again outdone themselves. Abstract lyrics relay heartfelt emotion, eccentric vocals deliver observant anecdotes and inventive appropriation runs wild. Crafted with complex multidimensional soundscapes, RELAXER has an almost cinematic quality, incorporating live orchestra, field recordings and electronic distortion. The eight track list features velvety keys, intelligent strings, edgy synth and Japanese flavours that are peppered throughout. A tribute to alt-J’s raw musicality and intuitive storytelling, RELAXER is pure sonic bliss.

Opening track “3WW” layers melodious acoustics with haunting vocals and crackling synth. Injecting mystical folk with slinky electronics and recorded dialogue, this multifaceted ballad sets the tone, plunging head first into the record’s sublime chaos.

Initially released as a single, “In Cold Blood” is full of jerky hooks that I can’t help but bop around to. No stranger to a driving rhythm, this funky track deftly combines nonchalant vocals with electric strings and stately trumpet jams. All hell breaks loose in, “Hit Me With That Snare”, setting the scene with tribal wails, kooky lyrics and a reverberating bass riff that conjures up visions of a Mexican standoff. Bold and defiant this tune rocks out with dynamic percussion and electro bleeps.

“Deadcrush” gets hot and heavy, sending shivers down spines with grotty bass lines, electronic cuts and lead singer Joe’s iconic throaty drawl. Changing pace, “Adeline” is a silky number, gliding by with delicate strings, rippling synth and figurative lyrics that bid a tender farewell.

A perfect lullaby, “Last Year” is beautifully nuanced with soft deliberated acoustics and dreamy vocals. Thick with nostalgia and grief the narrative unfolds with the help of heavenly songstress Marika Hackman, uttering the remaining verses in honeyed murmurs. Final track “Pleader” creeps forth, contrasting mysterious synth with a rich orchestral harmony. Brightly timbered melodies and grand chimes of the organ make for a majestic coda.

Recorded and produced in London, RELAXER unfolds like an original film score. Listening to the album in its entirety is a must, intelligent lyricism and iridescent soundscapes provoking vivid imagination and emotion. Shifting seamlessly from punchy riffs to orchestral hymns, the British trio have come to the party with eight standalone tracks that artfully combine to create a lush record that is undoubtedly at the forefront of progressive genre fusion.

Review Score: 9 out of 10. 

RELAXER is out now.