alt-J hit an unusual amount of success with "Breezeblocks" and "Fitzpleasure," both songs off of their debut record that showcased Joe Newman's nasally voice and penchant for odd melodies. Released during the same time as Imagine Dragons' breakout hits, peculiar stadium alt-rock was really in with emerging indie groups, including Grouplove and the Naked & Famous, all joining a group where post-Modest Mouse fans met the digital pop revolution.
As strangely catchy as alt-J's original hits were however, I still always thought of the duo as a novelty. Newman's voice was never something that I could really take seriously, and if it weren't for the pounding bass of "Fitzpleasure," the lyrics weren't anything to keep me going either. Sure, it made for good car commercials and movie trailer music, but really only the part where they don't open their mouths and the fuzzed-out bass drops.
Feeling like they now have some room to "experiment," or whatever that means for alt-J, the band spreads their lackluster songwriting even thinner than they did on "Fitzpleasure," incorporating excellent elements on their third studio album, Relaxer, that drift off into near boredom. The best part of the opening track, "3WW," doesn't occur until about three-minutes into the song, their instrumentals have about the same amount of intrigue as the non-memorable section of a film score, tracks like "Adeline" and "Pleader" go on for two minutes too long, and don't even get me started on the ear-damaging distortion of "Hit Me Like That Snare."
Sure, tracks like "In Cold Blood" show the best that Alt-J is capable of, but it's not something that we haven't already heard before on "Breezeblocks" or "Fitzpleasure" plus more strings and synthesizers. If anything, maximalism wasn't what made alt-J cool. Take their Tiny Desk Concert for NPR for example, as their performance for "3WW" including a minimal (be that as it may) string section, light percussion, and genius glockenspiel placement, gave the song a whole new light. I can't speak for the rest of the performances, but give me the audio for Tiny Desk's "3WW" and I'm sold.
I can't help but think back to the viral parody video made by some kids eating rice cakes on YouTube in which they mock the sound of alt-J. The video now has seven million views and even got the attention of the band for its all-too-canny accuracy:
alt-J are really not that far off from their parody counterparts: just two nerdy dudes making outlandish music screaming "la-la-la-la-la" into a cheap microphone. It's a bit heartwarming when all the noise drops out and Gus, the keyboardist and background vocalist who looks straight out of the cast from Napoleon Dynamite, hits his little glockenspiel and sings "I just want to love you in my own way." It's what I wish alt-J were like all of the time, but I don't know if they'll ever give up the Gregorian chant mixed with three-minute medieval string sections.
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