When alt-J’s Mercury Prize-winning album, An Awesome Wave, was released in 2012, it blew me away. It was an innovative album with a Radiohead vibe that referenced Where the Wild Things Are. Plus, it didn’t hurt that a geeky group of students who seemed to be avoiding the status quo was just making good music.
Now, two years and one fewer band member later, the band is releasing its second album, This is All Yours, a record that seemed destined for a sophomore slump after the widespread success of the first.
But This is All Yours isn’t a sophomore slump; it’s quirky, innovative and borderline avant-garde. The album is chock full of unusual sounds; it has some electronic quirks with ultra-weird vocals and some occasional chanting that feels like it belongs in a Wes Anderson film. Packing multiple motions in one song, the complex music swirls wildly. Upon first listen, the record may sound pretty terrible in a scrunched-up-nose kind of way, but the album grows on you with its catchy melodies and a strange mix of acoustic and techno that burrow into your head for hours.
However, despite alt-J’s eclecticism, the album seems to be falling into a certain formula. The arrangements are unique and surprising, but not in the same schizophrenic way as on the first album. “Left Hand Free” sounds similar to the Black Keys and almost seems like a parody compared to the rest of the album. Sure, they did include a sound bit of Miley Cyrus chanting “I’m a female rebel” on “Hunger of the Pine,” and the male and female vocals cut each other off every other word (which actually makes for a genuinely pretty song) on the track “Warm Foothills.” But, all in all, the album just seems like a run off of the first album—not necessarily a bad thing, just platonic.
If you’re a computer geek, you probably know alt-J is actually the keyboard shortcut for the delta sign on Apple computers, which is ironic considering the delta sign means change and the band’s second album sounds identical to its first. Sure, for a second record, the album was fantastic. The music is still a lot better than most new releases. And it is easy to fail after creating such a quintessential work of art on the first try. But how long will alt-J’s mechanical way of making music work? All good things must come to an end… even if you are a Mac user.