The tremendous success of their debut An Awesome Wave, bagging them a well-deserved a Mercury Prize in 2012, appears to have done wonders for Alt-J on This Is All Yours, in being altogether more bold and inventive. This is saying something when even their last effort seemed a truly original and innovative collaboration of atmospheric electronica and indie-folk-rock. It seems hard to believe that much of this eccentricity originally derived from the fact that the band was unable to use bass guitars or drums due to living in university halls.
Whilst it sometimes might be hard to fathom exactly what lyricist and lead singer, Joe Newman, is actually saying, as even band members Gwil Sainsbury and Thom Green have in an interview admitted to being slightly perplexed, it seems to be working overwhelmingly in their favour. A voice as wonderfully unusual as Maccabees’ frontman Orlando Weeks on their third album Given To The Wild, Newman’s voice becomes the central focus particularly in the “Intro” and on the acoustic track “Pusher.” The first single released from the album “Left Hand Free” acts as a lightly mocking nod to gun culture with a Wild West standoff implied through the lyrics “My right hand’s gripped on his/Colt single-action army” mingled with gruffly southern rock. Preceding this on the album, “Every Other Freckle” lyrically could be compared to Arctic Monkeys’ “I Wanna Be Yours” with its almost obsessive longing, in lines such as “I wanna be every button you press.”
Only Alt-J could combine a sample of Miley Cyrus from her single featuring Nelly “4×4,” creating the refrain “I’m a female rebel,” add specks of French to their lyrics and fashion the brilliantly trip-hop-y “Hunger Of The Pine.” Similarly “Warm Foothills” rallies perfectly the voices of Lianne La Havas, Marika Hackman, Conor Oberst and Sivu.
Just when you think the trio couldn’t surprise you anymore with their sheer musical distinctiveness, “Garden of England-Interlude” mashes what seems to be a flute and nature sounds, doing just that. At first you wouldn’t think it would mesh so well when putting it side by side with tracks like “Left Hand Free” but actually flows seamlessly onto proceeding track “Choice Kingdom,” that contends with a darker imperialistic twist on “Rule, Britannia.” It’s at this point when you realise just how diversified Alt-J’s musical spectrum really is, tethering the two tracks together simply by the common motif of England.
The Japanese city of Nara is obviously big focus for three of the album’s tracks, the first of which, “Arrival in Nara” is one of the stunningly tranquil moments of the album. In this way they stick to the structure their first album, even down to the continuation of “Bloodflood pt.II,” yet possibly create even more of a narrative here. Through a veritable array of artistic and political references, “Nara” deals with the fight against the repression of homosexuality in some of the most backwardly conservative places of world, namely Alabama and Russia. From C.S. Lewis’ fictional character Aslan, to French film Blue Is The Warmest Colour, these themes of living unrepressed are tied under the idea that Nara’s numerous deer are allowed roam free around the city unbothered by its inhabitants. It shows how symbolically abstract Alt-J continue to be in their lyrics, even on their second album. “Leaving Nara” picks up again the message of “Nara” but arguably more fervently in this concluding part to this trilogy of tracks.
“The Gospel of John Hurt,” is an homage to the actor’s role in the film Alien and faintly plays around various odd keyboard sound effects. Hidden track “Lovely Day” covers the Bill Withers’ classic and tops off what should definitely be a frontrunner for album of the year, effortlessly putting their own stamp on the song. Redefining just how to experiment with their sound in this latest feat, the band jig-saw genres and a multitude of voice samples from other artists, as well as their own monk-like harmonising. Alt-J re-emerged with a second triumph to almost surpass their first, resiliently so with the departure of their bassist/founding member and have come back with this even more assertive follow-up.