Here it is; one of my most highly anticipated albums of the year. I open it up and get ready to unwind and… I’m disappointed.
What happened? Following my review of Adeline last week, I was so pumped for the release of Relaxer, alt-J’s newest album. I wrote that ‘I can confidently claim that it’s set to be a great album,’ but unfortunately this isn’t exactly the case. So, what went wrong?
For a start, the album is simply too short. With a total of eight songs, three of which had been previously released as singles, the album sits at thirty-nine minutes in length. Compare that to the fourteen songs on their debut, An Awesome Wave, (and the subsequent deluxe version which featured twenty-five songs.) Even their last album, This Is All Yours had fourteen songs. This was a pattern that I had come to expect would carry on into Relaxer, but alas the album is much shorter, albeit crammed with longer songs, with the average track on the album running at approximately five minutes and thirty seconds.
It’s also a shame that literally half of the songs on the album had been heard before; 3WW, In Cold Blood, and Adeline were the singles released for this album, but I wasn’t expecting there to be a soft-core cover of House Of The Rising Sun embellished in this album. It’s by no means a bad cover, and it sticks to the traditional alt-J format I mentioned in my previous review, but I’m baffled as to why they’ve used that song in particular.
The first new song from the album is titled Hit Me Like That Snare, and to be honest, I’m not too sure what’s happened to one of my favourite bands. This comes out of nowhere, and is completely unique in alt-J’s discography; it’s as if they suddenly decided to change their sound entirely. I can’t help but think it’s so they have a few more ‘festival’-y songs. Hit Me Like That Snare is nothing like any previous alt-J song; it’s loud, intimidating, and invasive. Personally, I’m not a fan of this one.
We then move on to Deadcrush, a bass-heavy crunch song. In my review of Adeline, I claimed that alt-J are synonymous with summer for me, as their songs (well, their old songs), always remind me of the season and entice me into relaxation. This isn’t the case here; the easiest way to describe it is if An Awesome Wave was relaxing on a beach, Relaxer is driving through a desert in a convertible. It’s still potentially reminiscent of summer, but it’s by no means relaxing. We then move on to my favourite song on the album, Adeline. I’ve probably talked too much about Adeline, so I’ll leave you to read my review on that if you want to know why this is probably the best song on the album: https://wavebyte.co.uk/2017/05/28/alt-j-adeline/.
Then we have Last Year, the penultimate song on the album. It features the boys harmonising to a fingerpicked guitar. It’s cute, but far too long; not much happens in the over six minutes runtime, and it makes me feel more tired than relaxed. It’s not bad, but contrasting that to Hit Me Like That Snare totally ruins the theme and tone of the album, which, unfortunately, is all over the place. The final song on the album is Pleader. I enjoy this song, it’s actually very innovative for alt-J (whilst sticking to their brand,) and is really pleasant to hear – it’s a piece of music that I could write an entire essay to, listening to Pleader on repeat.
I’m not sure where everything went wrong, but this is a mess. It pains me to say that but it really is. The tone is all over the place. The style is all over the place. The pacing is all over the place (jumping from three-minute songs to six-minute songs.) Unlike previous alt-J records, nothing flows. I was so excited for this album, but it has turned into a huge let down for me. I’m seriously disappointed. Still, it does have some redeeming qualities; Adeline, In Cold Blood, and Pleader will be added to my alt-J playlist. With any luck, I’ll forget about the others.