Alt-J – Relaxer Review 

The “Indie Rock”, “Folktronica” trio from Leeds have been a source of great frustration for many fans of exciting and dynamic music. As we reach their third album Relaxer we have seen them release exciting and intriguing singles as they have done twice before, yet it is often when you get the rest of the album where you find it lacking in the quality that you have been teased with. The group opting for only an eight track album may suggest that they’ve ditched the album filler. If they have, then they have the abilty to be one of those countries premier acts. 

‘3WW’ was the first release from the album. It opens with folk-like acoustic chords which echo into a sparse space with only the subtle electronic highlight. The opening vocals are reminiscent of old English folk songs in combination with the click beats. The song suddenly bursts into a chorus of vocals and sweeps off into a delicate piano ballad. From here it takes on the shape of a more typical Alt-J track with distortions and more prominent acoustic chords. Wolf Alice’s Ellie Roswell adds to the vocals to accentuate and diversify the song further. It is a shifting track that is dynamic and works in the changes of tone and style well. Completely contrasting the chilled and haunting tones of 3WW, alt-J have dropped the second single from Relaxed, In Cold Blood. With binary code, smooth licks of jazz and a brilliant key change, the wonderfully sinuous single is something quite unlike alt-J have ever done before, but also exactly what we’d hope and expect to hear from the Mercury Prize winners. They’ve somehow managed to braid pop, coarse folk and indie rock into one, with a frankly astounding finish. Layers of synth, trombone and expert percussion make up the track, with inflating vocals making the simplistic close all the more effective. The trio explained the track was written back in their “Leeds days” and was unearthed and completed last year, giving it its biting pop edge on a £1.05 Casiotone keyboard from eBay. Worth it, I’d say.  

‘Deadcrush’ is a typically abrasive song in the style in many an Alt-J hit. The rumbling distortion of synths features samples of heavy breathing filtering through it. Joe Newman’s lax and winding vocals cut through the instrumentation as the song progresses, as do choppy riffs and flickering beats. The chorus is marked with James Brown samples and falsettos that ring through the track in something like an alternative Bee Gees style. ‘Adeline’ is a beautiful piece of arrangement and vocal harmony to form a graceful, yet modern ballad. Perhaps surprisingly, the third track is a cover of The Animals cover of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. It is a cool and calm affair and whilst graceful, it feels a little unnecessary, that they could have featured this as a B-side and with only eight songs on the album anyway; it hints at a lack of ideas. Tracks such as ‘Hit Me Like A Snare’ aim for rough edged Blues Rock and whilst full of energy, it lacks the thin veil of consistency that any good song needs. In retrospect half of the album is great, but that’s just four songs. It is without album filler, but it has been replaced by nothing else. Given the talent they’ve shown, it is yet another frustrating album that doesn’t deliver what it had promised, but only flashes of it. 

Alt-J – Relaxer = 7/10

Owen Riddle & Ellie Chivers

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