Words About Music
Alt-J “This Is All Yours”
One of the year’s most anticipated sophomore releases has been “This Is All Yours,” the new album from acclaimed British trio, formerly a quartet, Alt-J. This band excited a lot of music fans back in 2012 with their off-the-wall debut “An Awesome Wave,” a rock record that delicately balanced electronica, indie rock, and the age of the Internet. The band sounded like a cross between Dirty Projectors and Radiohead with their reliance on vocal harmonies, electronic drum-and-bass sounds, and quirky lyricism. While not everyone was on board with their sound, they still made quite a wave when it came out. I enjoy “An Awesome Wave” to this day and I think it definitely still stands up as a great and significant record from this era we’re currently in. But as time passed, the elephant in the room made itself known. We’ve seen it happen so many times: an indie buzzband gets impossibly big after its debut album and then all the subsequent albums fell short. While “This Is All Yours” is a disappointment in the sense that it’s not as fresh or exciting as “An Awesome Wave,” it is still a decent album that shows at least a little bit of promise for Alt-J’s career.
The promotional singles for “This Is All Yours” didn’t come without a bit of controversy. The first single, “Hunger of the Pine,” features a sample of Miley Cyrus singing “I’m a female rebel.” The second single, “Left Hand Free,” came with some later refuted comments from the band that suggested that they only wrote it to please their label. And the third single, “Every Other Freckle,” features unfortunate lyrics like “I wanna bed into you like a cat beds into a bean bag” and “I wanna turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet.” Not the best start for the band, but “This Is All Yours” was shaping up to at least be okay. And it is at least okay. Lyrically, for the most part, the band sustains that sense of oddity and eccentricity that made them so likable last time around. They reference several novels, songs, and films throughout the album and even sing in French at a few points. But if this doesn’t scream Arcade Fire or Vampire Weekend to you, then you’re in denial. As original as the band sounds, their constant references and humorous overtones to depict more morose undertones don’t strike me as too ambitious or creative.
As controversial as it was, “Left Hand Free” is still one of my favorite songs on the album. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s fun, and it still has that instantly recognizable Alt-J flair. At their best, Alt-J is a fun, slightly experimental pop band that makes hooks out of things that have no business being hooks. Sometimes, though, they do drift into the derivative. “Warm Foothills” sounds like a Mumford and Sons song that they recorded while their banjo player was asleep. “Every Other Freckle” features some embarrassingly corny lyrics that aren’t even seductive in an ironic way. “Choice Kingdom” is straight up boring and forgettable. “This Is All Yours” is a hit-or-miss record that feels like they assembled the first thirteen songs they wrote into an album without trying to think of anything else. It sounds like the bare minimum.
“This Is All Yours” is an album born to disappoint. It was almost its destiny. Decriers and fans alike were practically waiting for the leak so they could tweet about how bad the album was. It ventures beyond mediocre but never really seems to reach for excellent or ambitious or exciting. “An Awesome Wave” made a promise that “This Is All Yours” couldn’t quite keep. And while the latter does have some good songs that I think are up there with some of Alt-J’s best, it doesn’t touch the former in terms of quality, passion, and originality. No amount of Wu-Tang references is going to change that.
SCORE – 6.2
FAVORITE TRACKS – Intro, Nara, Left Hand Free, Hunger of the Pine, The Gospel of John Hurt, Bloodflood pt.II