Alt-J - This Is All Yours
Released September 22, 2014
By Brendan Tuytel
There’s always been this notion of intelligent music that requires some sort of higher level of consciousness to appreciate. One listen to Alt-J’s sophomore follow up to the Mercury Prize nominated An Awesome Wave, and it’s clear that such a notion is something the British band strives toward. The band’s eclectic collection of sounds are all done in such a way that is cinematic - more akin to opera than the modern album – daring to try unconventional combinations. All of this is great as an idea, but falters in the face of practicality. The first two tracks, Intro and Arrival in Nara are all concept with no meaningful execution. Their fundamentals are solid, but they’re bare bone tracks despite being so lush with instrumentation. The album is a bore off the bat, but is redeemed by the more grounded Nara. The harmonies that brought depth to An Awesome Wave aren’t just present, but remarkably improved being used in unintuitive new ways.
Hunger of the Pine is by far the stand out for me. It’s a gorgeous take on juxtaposition alternating between catchy percussion enhanced by level upon level of instruments with mellow moments. It’s a centerpiece that encapsulates what the album strives for. The constant contrast is daring yet oddly attractive; its mystique demands attention. The follow-up Warm Foothills is a twee, charming song so expertly orchestrated and composed. The track that is most notable for all the wrong reasons is Left Hand Free. It’s an abrupt and jarring transition for a song that is unambitious and plain. As an average rock song, it isn’t bad, but its context amplifies its mediocrity. You can’t help but notice the track despite its nondescript nature. It’s like being brought into an art museum and forced to stare at an undressed wall; sure, there may be an intended message trying to be conveyed, but it doesn’t make the experience enjoyable.
As a package, This is All Yours just falls short of its full potential; it’s an experience that is very new but still keeps a firm grasp of familiarity. When the album is a success, it has some of my favourite moments of musicianship. But, to bog these songs down with an overly self-indulgent beginning mars this piece of artistry. If you’re looking for the next Something Good or Fitzpleasure, it’s unfortunately not on this album. Alt-J clearly had different ambitions for this project. The transitions give the album a very cohesive, story-like experience. Evidently, these songs were written with an album in mind as opposed to being accumulated over time. However, the primary issue is that the album seems to be in a constant limbo of making up for its mistakes, occasionally reversing the progress and failing to follow up its successes. Yet I find myself having such a hard time saying I didn’t enjoy it. Something is so appealing about its quirky nature. I find myself wanting to like it just to get the pride that comes from “getting” it. Therein lies the issue with “intelligent music,” it’s hard to discredit it when you almost want to discredit yourself for not appreciating it.