Published on November 5th, 2017


ALT-J by Gabriel_Green

Alt-J landed in 2012 with “An Awesome Wave,” straddling a line between ambient and alternative. Tracks like “Breezeblocks” and “Fitzpleasure,” although hard in places, felt too soothing to represent for a record whose title is a line from the movie version of “American Psycho.” Five years later, the British band’s splicing of spiky synths and guitars remains tough to ca   tegorize — but receptive to change, judging by “Relaxer,” the third full-length from Alt-J and the occasion for a new U.S. tour.

A trio since guitarist Gwil Sainsbury’s exit in 2014, Alt-J have re-emerged sounding more mature even as they reach back to their beginnings. Among the eight tracks on Relaxer are a handful, like “In Cold Blood,” they started assembling a decade ago at the University of Leeds. Standouts on Relaxer include a stately, almost choral cover of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun.” And then there’s “Hit Me Like That Snare,” a go-getter about a someone wandering rooms in a sex hotel (“Fuck you! I’ll do/What I wanna do”).

At university “we were fresh-faced and full of ideas,” keyboardist and vocalist Gus Unger-Hamilton told NPR in May. “And we’ve tried to keep that spirit, but we also got better at our instruments … and I think the experimental side of it has become a bigger thing.”

Six of the eight feature strings by the London Metropolitan Orchestra, as Unger-Hamilton, singer and guitarist Joe Newman and drummer Thom Green tap musicians from other disciplines to help them achieve their vision. It will certainly be interesting to see how these heavily arranged, album-oriented tracks play out on stage.

It’s always been difficult to place Alt-J by genre, and they’ve made some bold moves. People thought it was weird when they sampled a Miley Cyrus vocal on 2014’s “Hunger of the Pine,” but after a few listens it somehow worked. One minute they’re art rock, the next they mix folk and a Casiotone. The net result is a strangely beautiful hodgepodge of feel-good tunes.

Alt-J perform November 10 at the Fillmore Miami Beach with NoMBe and November 11 at the House of Creatives Festival on Virginia Key with MGMT and Washed Out.
~ Olivia Feldman

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