Following the numerous awards and critical acclaim poured over the band following 2012’s ‘An Awesome Wave’, one can imagine that the pressure has been on to deliver another record as captivating as the first. A difficult position to be in, especially after losing Bassist Gwil Sainsbury last year to the stresses of touring, but the now-trio have effortlessly explored new areas of the sonic playground they masterfully negotiated on their first record. One notable change is the more obvious use of samples, including but not limited to, the infamous Miley Cyrus on the leading single ‘Hunger of the Pine’. This track blends the bands trademark brood with a heavy Hip Hop influence in Thom Green’s drumming and programming, all topped off by a well-chosen sample, eventually given the all clear by Cyrus after some legal issues. Quite whether the band were trying to make some kind of statement by sampling the controversial artists line ‘I’m the female rebel’ I do not know, but nonetheless it adds to the song without drawing too much attention to its originator.
One thing the band must be commended on is their ability to write and produce music that draws on many genres without sounding disparate or awkward. The opening of ‘Warm Foothills’ is a beautiful departure from the electronic sounds that precede it and almost reminds you of the days when bands like Bombay Bicycle Club and Mumford and Sons ruled the ‘Indie’ music world with their reflective Nu-Folk sound. However the track itself is in no way nostalgic as once again Thom Green’s unique drumming secures the folk influence within the bands repertoire and builds the song to a strong climax; this is definitely not background music.
In criticism the album does take a long time, perhaps too long, to get started. The opener eventually builds to some interesting ‘world’ textures, but feels more like a film score; an attempt to be as epic as possible is certainly audible. With the bands contributions to the Toby Jones’ film Leave to Remain under their belt there is no doubt that this is a direction they are intentionally taking, but some may argue it means the album takes too long to build when placed next to part one of the ‘Nara’ trilogy. The last two tracks on the album see it somewhat peter out just as cautiously as it wades in, a shame when the singles have made such an impact since their release. It is fair to say the bands best work is to be found in the middle of the album; topped off by the exceptional ‘Warm Foothills’ and begun with current single ‘Every Other Freckle’. The southern rock jam ‘Left Hand Free’ is also an unusual but welcome addition to a body of work that regrettably does start to feel repetitive by side two.
Alt J’s sophomore effort has its moments of greatness and moments of tedium. However, fortunately the band hit the mark more than they miss it, and it comes with great surprise that their second single, ‘Left Hand Free’, didn’t make more of an impact on the UK charts. Perhaps it will in the States, where the band are set to be touring extensively this autumn in an attempt to spread their infectious alternative/dub/folk, or whatever collection of labels could do their modern and creative sound justice.
Alt J’s ‘This Is All Yours’ is out now and available to buy on iTunes