Title: This Is All Yours
Record Label: Infectious/Atlantic Records
Release Date: 22nd September 2014
With ‘An Awesome Wave’, alt-J’s debut LP, there was little expectation on its shoulders. alt-J at the time were a promising little band that produced quirky, weird songs that looked set to carve out a niche not unlike Wild Beasts. Essentially, widely revered but not world conquering. Little did we all know that, the now three piece - bassist Gwil Sainbury left the band in January 2014 – would create an album of pure splendour, an album that would propel them to the arenas and festivals the world over and position the Leeds outfit as a quasi-air to Radiohead’s oddball throne. However, expectation is a key reference now, with the trio rustling up a follow up to ‘An Awesome Wave’, the public wait with baited breath, was the band’s first offering a fluke? Can alt-j equal or surpass ‘An Awesome Wave’s legacy?
‘This Is All Yours’ carries the hallmarks of alt-J’s distinctive sound; the crisp, robust beats of Thom Green provide a sturdy backbone, Joe Newman’s beguiling falsetto-baritone glides across Green’s defined stick-work and the layers of electronics and trembling guitar lines dealt with by the hands of Newman and keyboard aficionado, Gus Unger-Hamilton drape a rich, texture sonic tapestry across the album’s 13 tracks. The burning questions are, does the group’s sophomore attempt measure up to ‘An Awesome Wave’ and how has the bands unique and innovative sound developed? To the first quizzer, it almost measures up – let’s make no bones about this, ‘This Is All Yours’ has some magical moments but the way ‘An Awesome Wave’ appeared out of the blue ensured the band’s debut came loaded with the surprise factor. Despite this, ‘This Is All Yours’ finds the collective pushing themselves into new realms, notably sampling Miley Cyrus on comeback single ‘Hunger of the Pine’ – there’s flirtations with brass and added elements of lush orchestration plus the outfit’s lust for using silence as another instrument delivers poignant impact at opportune moments. We guess that’s query two covered; there’s an alt-J template that’s been tweaked and toyed with but not completely rewritten, just what you would want for a second record.
Cinematic appeal and a feeling of the conceptual has always been an important string to alt-J’s bow. Let’s face it, any band previously known as Films is going to have a lust for the celluloid way of life. Equally, ‘An Awesome Wave’ made references to Luc Besson’s Leon with ‘Matilda’ and they’ve lent their wares to the Bradley Cooper starring Silver Linings Playbook with ‘Buffalo’. Movie influences aside, there’s a filmic quality to ‘This Is All Yours’ in how the album commences with a part-instrumental ‘Intro’ that swells and soars with crispy, crunching noises and intricate guitar plucks. Additionally, the inclusion of ‘Arrival in Nara’ at the record’s summit and ‘Leaving Nara’ during its final moments work as lush establishing motifs akin to opening and closing credits. ‘Garden of England’ found at the LP’s core is another heavenly instrumental wrapped around bird tweets and elegant recorder trills. It’s a lovely nod to English eccentricity by a peculiar, English band.
So many songs on ‘An Awesome Wave’ stood out as centre-pieces but on ‘This Is All Yours’ alt-J have cooked up something denser and slightly more elusive. Where the band’s debut LP, in retrospect, is full of weirdly, wonderful pop songs, on this second helping, the tracks are less instant but with it the challenge to delve deeper under its skin is an invitation hard to turn down. ‘The Gospel of John Hurt’ and ‘Hunger of the Pine’ are standout favourites to nestle up to ‘Tessellate’ and ‘Breezeblocks’ as new fan faves – equally, ‘Bloodflood pt.II’ has a dash of familiarity which harks back to those widescreen motion picture vibes previously mentioned. The album might not produce as many sing-a-longs as its predecessor but what it lacks in anthemics it makes up for in depth and adventurousness.
alt-j find themselves in a similar place as The xx did when the Londoners followed up ‘xx’ with ‘Coexist’ – to reignite the magic from their debut is a tall order. ‘This Is All Yours’ stands up tall to ‘An Awesome Wave’ and forgetting expectation, it’s a solid, textured and well-crafted second album.