Album of the Week: alt-J, 'Relaxer'

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alt-j, 'Relaxer'
alt-j, 'Relaxer' (Atlantic Records)
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How do I say this? alt-J can be … divisive. From the very outset of the band, they've caught flak, whether for Joe Newman's unique vocal style, or for their songs' measured pace. As they release their third album, Relaxer, it's very tempting to have one's mind already made up with regard to alt-J. With some close listening attention, though, Relaxer proves to be a compelling record with plenty of intriguing rewards.

On Relaxer, alt-J sound like they're trying to do a little of everything at once. Some songs are built around endearingly silly elements, such as "Hit Me Like That Snare," which the band members have even said was largely conceived as a goof in the studio. "Deadcrush," in particular, most recalls the band's previous work, recalling the loping rhythms of "Breezeblocks" and "Every Other Freckle." "In Cold Blood" is a standout, lurching from pulverizing riffs to spooky organs to a bright brass section without managing to feel fragmented, held together by Newman's pretty catchy vocal hook of ones and zeroes.

The aforementioned songs live alongside some much slower material that explicitly recall folk tunes in the English, Irish and American traditions. "Adeline" incorporates bits of the Irish folk number "The Auld Triangle," as well as Hans Zimmer's score for The Thin Red Line, while "House of the Rising Sun" is a version of the American standard, with some verses added to shift the focus to the perspective of the narrator's father. "3WW," the first single released from the project, sounds like it could have been recorded by a prog band from the '70s, with a star supporting verse from Wolf Alice's Ellie Rowsell.

If you've written off alt-J in the past, I strongly encourage you to give Relaxer a listen with fresh ears. They're a band who have firmly settled into their ways — whether that's a good or a bad thing will depend on the listener — but their vision and creativity should prove noteworthy for any discerning music fan.

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alt-J - official site

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