ALBUM REVIEW: Alt-J – The Dream
English trio alt-J started making waves in 2012 with their Mercury Award-winning debut An Awesome Wave, and they haven’t stopped making genre-bending, thought provoking music since. They successfully followed up that LP with This Is All Yours (arguably an ever better album than the debut). It was a record that did everything, from using Miley Cyrus samples to embracing the blues, which sums up alt-J‘s sound pretty well. They take risks and the majority of the time they pay off. Once you realise they get high and write music, a lot of their discography begins to makes sense.
2017’s RELAXER perhaps dented the band’s momentum slightly. Although in our opinion, it is still a very high-quality record, it almost seemed a bit too alternative for some fans and it was received to a mixed reception.
Fast forward after five years of radio silence, and in 2022, we have been greeted with The Dream. Lead single U&ME was a solid introduction. The way it transitions to a sea of noise, to a fog of distortion is typical brilliant alt-J, although apart from that it does not take too many risks. Arguably it doesn’t need to.
Hard Drive Gold’s garage drumbeat and use of samples is also very typical of a band who have arguably mastered using them creatively. Opener Bane is another great example of this, with its ramblings of fizzy cola taking you on a sparkling adventure.
Lyrically, The Actor is probably the highlight of this LP. It’s a song that centres around weird 80s synths, and a riff that sounds straight out of the desert. The song depicts a drug fuelled night with Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, that led to the passing of John Belushi.
Get Better also tells the tale of a partner comforting his girlfriend who is going through period pains, which suits Joe Newman’s unique and beautiful voice perfectly, similar to the way Warm Foothills did in their sophomore record.
In the second half of the record, the experimentation alt-J have made a career doing is still as prevalent as ever. Although perhaps not as successfully in the deep house track Chicago, which just does not suit the band and probably seemed like a good idea after a big night, but maybe not the next morning.
Philadelphia builds up nicely to a crescendo, which typically crashes down with some gentle, stereotypically alt-J guitar picking and slick production techniques. Walk a Mile was sung by a barbershop quartet and is quite frankly, a tad boring. At over six-and-a-half minutes, the song doesn’t really go anywhere.
Closing the album, the minute long vocal track Delta doesn’t seem to add a lot. Losing My Mind keeps a nice steady momentum throughout, and builds and builds, but then just stops, and leaves you wanting more.
Powders has an exceptional bridge section, with drummer Thom Green and his girlfriend reading a spoken word section of a man essentially falling in love with the cashier. It’s a quirky note to finish The Dream on, as Newman echoes “I’m your man” in the background.
The Dream may not be the band’s best LP, but it is still a very high-quality record and will further cement alt-J’s position as one of the UK’s best, and most unique bands – arguably ever. This LP is a tad on the top heavy side, but we would still thoroughly recommend it. Although one or two tracks may pass you by, it’s a record that is creative, enjoyable, quirky, and very, very alt-J.
Standout Tracks: Bane, U&ME, Get Better
For Fans Of: Radiohead, The xx, Portugal. The Man
Written by: Joe Loughran