Ten years ago in Leeds University four friends decided to join and create a band that would revolutionise Indie Rock forever. Alt-j is the combination in the keyboard of your computer to create Delta (∆). To create the difference. The variable that is able to do a variation in a function, mathematically speaking; the fourth letter of the Greek Alphabet, literally speaking and one of the greatest bands of the century, Musically Speaking.
From the moment of creation until their first album took them the generous amount of five years, in which they produced several EP’s and Demos where “Breezeblocks” and “Matilda” would resonate in the ear of any of the early listeners. In their second year the production would be in the hands of Sainsbury (bassist and synth) which with Joe Newman (vocalist) songs’ would use “GarageBand” and record their very first sounds, in the halls of the university. On the backing vocals, piano and Public Relations we have Gus Unger-Hamilton and Thom Green, which suffers from Alport Syndrome (80% deaf and liver failure), occupies the drums.
In 2012 they do release their first album which was at the time filed with Gems already known from their previous “demos” and live performances. This Album was recorded in the “studio’s free time”, meaning when no one else needed it, in Iguana Records by Charlie Andrew. This Album sky-rocketed them to the 13th position on the charts in the UK, while they were opening “Wild Beasts” concerts. This fast paced success was not pleasant for the band that did not even had the time to prepare for the fame, when winning a Mercury Award, when they were not even a “real band” yet.
Gail Sainsbury ended up not resisting to all the “bullshit of the industry”, according to Gus, and ended up leaving the band in the early beginning of 2014, in the end of their first album’s Tour and when they were already getting the second out of the oven. His departure was noticeable in the band’s second work, “This is All Yours” released that same year in September. This one reached number one on the UK Charts as soon as it was released although it was totally raped by every music critic, due to its dullness, in my view quite fairly. Out of the top of my head I am probably only able to name three songs from that album and they were probably the singles. And I was honestly afraid that the same would happen with “Relaxer” their newest work.
It is not better than the revolution imposed with “An Awesome Wave” however it made us regain all the hopes in Alt-Rock and specifically in this trio from the UK. The possible comparison that jumps to my mind immediately is The XX’s career, which started with a revolutionary album that was not kept up to standard with their second work and was now brought up to live with their third work.
Opening with two of the already known singles, “3WWW” and “In Cold Blood”, the pace is set for ages ago, since this two are on repeat for a while now in my laptop. And still I was not ready for “The House of the Rising Sun”. As soon as I saw the name I was hoping they had not touched the eternal classic from The Animals, which they not only did as they ruined as I did not even thought possible. After that another confusing one that picks up more on the second album’s heavy bass lines and less on the delicate lines Sainsbury would insert in their early beginnings. Kudos to the chorus though that could not be more cliche, yet in the context it made sense with all the rage printed so far.
It is with “Deadcrush” that my enchantment for their new tunes revived. With the same darkness and mystery of “3WWW” it is probably my favourite song of the album and definitely a game-changer for the rest of the work. Following this success hit comes “Adeline”, which then again we already knew it would be great in any part of the album. And from this moment on “Relaxer” makes sense. The whole mess, rage and confusion from the first tunes evaporates into nylon guitars, blue horns, fairy dust and a beautiful duet in “Last Year”. The end of this album is a vibrant combination of the euphoria of the first songs with the elegance of the strings that now are essential part of Alt-j’s music.
This new trend that bands have been practising of releasing their best singles long time ahead in the attempt of having their albums immediately on the Top of the Charts is not only worsening the experience of discovering the album as well as it ends up being a fraud for the fans that then expect that all the songs that they are presented with at the moment of the release to be aligned with the singles, which rarely happens. The XX, Mac Demarco and now Alt-j committed that mistake, and have disappointed me with their new works just for the fact they are not their best works as well as We never find the same quality overall in the album in comparison to the Singles. However, “Relaxer” is a landmark piece of Art that deserves not only the due respect when listened as it requires a way heavier interpretation and sensitivity. Another variation of this variable genre that Alt-j imposes upon Indie with their Alt-Rock vibe.