A catch-your-breath kind of come­back

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC REVIEWS - BRIAN KEANE

Alt-J are one of those bands. Transat­lantic chart-top­pers and arena act by night, or­di­nary Joes by day, the def­i­ni­tion of mild-man­nered young English­men. Google all you want, there are no tales of on-tour melt­downs, celebrity love tri­an­gles or Twit­ter spats. For bet­ter or worse, the lack of an “im­age” and “style” makes the trio wholly anony­mous and their mu­sic oddly un­cat­e­goris­able. Mean­ing? Be­ing a blank slate should make it eas­ier to start over.

Thus, third al­bum Re­laxer is less ac­ces­si­ble than the melodic Mer­cury Prize-win­ning An Awe­some Wave, but more en­gag­ing than their fre­quently aim­less fol­low-up. It’s a catch-your-breath-and-re­group kind of come­back with a rest­less edge, the sound of a band with the world at their feet and they’re not quite sure whether to kick it away or pick it up and em­brace it.

Pro­duced once again by Char­lie An­drews, the al­bum mar­ries or­ches­tral acous­tic num­bers with dis­parate out­liers, a cu­ri­ous mix of som­bre mood-set­ters and in­stant-grat­i­fi­ca­tion pay­offs. 3WW is like a José González and Four Tet take on English folk mu­sic, the gor­geous, lush non-cover House of

the Ris­ing Sun car­ries a me­lan­cholic Adrian Crow­ley vibe, and Ade­line is an anx­ious, un­easy love song (and neatly bor­rows a few words from The Auld

Tri­an­gle). Joe Newman can’t re­sist lac­ing his lyrics with a cere­bral coat­ing; these songs are em­i­nently lovely, if not quite lov­able.

At the other end of the sonic scale, the in­fec­tious Dead­crush could be a TV on the Ra­dio and Doseone col­lab­o­ra­tion,

In Cold Blood is a high-en­ergy, brass-driven sword fight and Pleader moves from slasher-flick strings and loom­ing, ham­mered dul­cimer to full choral fi­nale. The most ar­rest­ing mo­ment comes on the pro­top­unk-fu­eled Hit Me Like That Snare, with Newman de­fi­antly shout­ing “f*ck you, I’ll do, what I want to do”. It’s a rare dis­play of un­leashed emo­tion. A strangely ab­sorb­ing eight tracks.

Re­laxer is in­co­he­sive and un­set­tling for sure and a cross­roads on the path to greater suc­cess. al­tjband.com

ALT-J Re­laxer In­fec­tious

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