Alt-J have released Relaxer, a trippy and diverse album which is a clear continuation of the band’s first two records, 2012’s groundbreaking An Awesome Wave and 2014’s This Is All Yours which saw the band experimenting more in the studio.
Relaxer features eight songs spanning 39 minutes, which may leave fans wanting more. By comparison, An Awesome Wave had 14 songs clocking in at 43 minutes and This Is All Yours had 14 songs over 55 minutes. Considering that the band took three years between albums and Relaxer features less material than their previous LPs, it’s worth asking the question about whether Alt-J may be running out of ideas, lacking inspiration, or perhaps just going through a slow period.
Listening to this album, there are more than a few callbacks to the distant past and folk music traditions. The band shared their thoughts on their version of “House of the Rising Sun” in a track-by-track review shared with NPR Music:
We have always seen ourselves as a bit of a folk band, and so it seems fitting to try our hands at a song like this. No one knows for sure where this song originated, but our version is very much set in New Orleans. The first verse is mostly from the folk song, the second is our own, thus continuing the folk process of taking a song, changing it, and passing it on.
In addition to the steady presence of finger-picked acoustic guitar, there are also an abundance of literary references touching on everything from Shakespeare to Truman Capote to Radiohead. The album was recorded at Iguana Studios and Abbey Road Studios in London. The band also recruited a couple of females to contribute vocals: Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell on “3WW” and Marika Hackman on “Last Year.” Hans Zimmer — one of the most successful film composers of all time — is also given songwriting credit on “Adeline.”
Relaxer finds Alt-J once again delivering a clever mix of hypnotic grooves layered with a wide range of instrumentation. These immensely talented musicians are able to take guitar, piano, drums, strings, brass, and quirky electronics to create a sound entirely their own. While much of the album is fittingly relaxed, with soft vocals and gentle playing, songs like “In Cold Blood” and “Hit Me Like That Snare” provide an aggressive punk rock counterpoint that keeps things from getting too sleepy.
Relaxer is available on Amazon. You can also stream the full album above, via Spotify.
For more, check out the Alt-J Zumic artist page.