Album Review: Alt J – This Is All Yours

When Alt J’s former bassist Gwil Sainsbury left the band earlier this year, it left many people wondering what the Leeds-based group would do next. Would they call it a day too soon? Would they wait and find a replacement? Or would they go on and record a new album as they were? It turned out to be the latter, with Joe Newman, Gus Unger-Hamilton and Thom Green spending months in the studio working on what was to become This Is All Yours, a truly magnificent piece of work which almost completely outdoes debut album An Awesome Wave. Read on for more on what we thought of the album.

As with their debut, This Is All Yours kicks off with an intro. Coming in just short of 5 minutes, Intro opens with faint guitar lines, accompanying choir-esque vocals from Newman and Unger-Hamilton, before a synth melody enters the frame. As the song slowly builds up, an eerie, eastern vocal sample enters in the background, accompanied by a doomy bassline. Halfway into the track, the song fully kicks in with Newman’s vocals joining Green’s trademark minimal drum sound. The track goes on to build up with serene mandolin and vocal samples, which lead into Arrival in Nara. For those unaware, Nara is a Japanese city where its inhabitants worship Deer as if they were gods. Arrival in Nara encompasses intertwining piano and guitar, with vocals entering halfway through. Newman’s voice is joined by accompanying strings on a very mellow and laid back song, which gradually builds up towards the end as Newman and Unger-Hamilton harmonize over subdued guitar. The song is completely free of percussion, with following track Nara featuring church bell samples and more guitar lines. Nara is an eerie piece of work in which Newman declares, “love is the warmest colour” before him and Unger-Hamilton continuously chant “hallelujah, hallelujah” over an epic combination of xylophone, buzzsaw synths, samples and percussion. New single Every Other Freckle follows, showcasing Alt J’s weirdest lyrics to date, such as “I want to share your mouthfuls” and “turn you inside out, and lick you like a crisp packet”. Despite this, Every Other Freckle is a mix of typical Alt J melancholy and weird vocal samples. The sitar solo towards the end further enhances the eastern influence on the album, before Left Hand Free goes on to demonstrate a whole new side of Alt J. Created in response to a label request for more accessible music, Left Hand Free combines blues rock guitar, cowbell’s and harmonium-style synth solos in what is Alt J’s “heaviest” track to date. It’s accessible nonetheless and definitely in contention to be a big hit stateside.

Interlude track Garden of England follows, with an extremely baroque-esque flute melody being the only thing heard on this song. Its Baroque elements are similar to those heard on An Awesome Wave’s Interlude 1, making it a nice breather on what has been an interesting record thus far. The extremely mellow and spiritual Choice Kingdom follows, with spiralling sirens accompanying Newman’s smooth vocals and guitar line. Deeper percussion sounds eventually help the song build up into a hypnotic, synth-led outro which sees Newman and Unger-Hamilton harmonize in unison like young choir boys. Comeback single Hunger of the Pine proceeds to eradicate all spiritual, near Baroque elements with its bleeping electronic intro, Miley Cyrus samples and gloomy drum patterns. On paper, Alt J sampling Miley Cyrus is something completely unexpected, yet the American singer’s repeated line of “I’m a female rebel” (from her track 4×4) fits in well with Hunger of the Pine’s downbeat tempo. It ends with Newman singing in French, but not before it all comes together with a powerful combination of percussion, vocal layers and synths. Warm Foothills, which the band premiered live in 2013, encompasses smooth vocals and a surprisingly happy, whistled melody. The vocals are sweet and serene, with the melody only making the song more beautiful.

The epic The Gospel of John Hurt sees Newman referencing Tetris and Aliens alongside a repetitive guitar line, before the fully acoustic love song Pusher sees him ask, “are you a pusher or are you a puller?”. As Pusher slowly fades out, it makes way for what is the most beautiful moment on the whole album – Bloodflood Pt. 2. Continuing where An Awesome Wave’s Bloodflood left off, Part 2 opens with minor piano chords, electronic drums and deeply emotional vocals. Once Newman starts singing, a trombone accompanies him as he goes on to repeat Part 1’s recognizable “dead in the middle of the C-O-double M O-N”, before his murmur of “that’s the sound of the police” catches us all off guard. When put up alongside Part 1, you can definitely hear how well Alt J have progressed sonically since they released their debut album in 2012. The sheer emotion in the vocals makes Bloodflood Pt. 2 an immensely beautiful and magical song, one of the best Alt J has ever recorded by a million miles.  Leaving Nara’s swirling electronics and wailed vocals bring This Is All Yours to an eerie yet mystifying end, showing us that Alt J can only get better.

On the whole, This Is All Yours is magnificent. Just like on their debut, Alt J have found a perfect balance between eeriness, beauty and sheer brilliance. The likes of Bloodflood Pt. 2 and Nara showcase Alt J’s harmonious, hypnotic side, whereas the likes of Left Hand Free and Warm Foothills have shown that Alt J still have an upbeat, playful side. Some songs may see a significant lack of percussion, but the overall beauty of This Is All Yours on the whole completely makes up for it. This Is All Yours is definitely going to be the album that sends Alt J even higher into the stratosphere than ever before.