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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

alt-J: All About Change

Susan Zhu | The Observer
Susan Zhu | The Observer
From the onset of discovering the British indie rock group alt-J, I was intrigued.  For one thing, the band’s proper name is “∆”, while “alt-J” is merely the directions for inputting the delta sign on a Mac. I know, cool right?  alt-J’s folky-pop style was a cornerstone in my music rotation this past year.  With lead singer Joe Newman’s waspy, swinging voice coupled with sharp poetic lyrics, alt-J’s music packs an emotional punch.  However it is alt-J’s ability to weave disparate melodies into one organic tune that allows them to be fresh and innovative song after song.  Though tranquil, alt-J won’t put you to sleep; their soaring sound is more comforting than it is boring.

alt-J’s debut album, “An Awesome Wave” produced some waves (no pun intended) in the indie-sphere and even went on to win the British Barclaycard Mercury Prize, a big honor for groups across the pond.  Smart, poignant and meticulously crafted, “An Awesome Wave” was definitely a winner.  However, as alt-J’s new album “This is All Yours” approaches, some pretty glaring questions are beginning to arise.  For one thing, the “silent leader” of the group, Gwil Sainsbury, peacefully threw in the towel after deciding the constant touring schedule wasn’t for him.  While I can’t really say I blame him, many of the dynamics within the band are expected to shift, which could potentially alter the group’s unique sound.  Yet, a slight change in the right direction could be exactly what alt-J needs to break into the next level.

Taking over the leadership within the group is drummer Thom Green, ushering in much more reliance on synth-based technology in alt-J’s music, which is already evident in the three singles already released from “This is All Yours.” A more upbeat and happy tone resonates from all three new singles.  Much of the alt-J signature melodramatics is replaced with a more straightforward sound.  Because of this, many seasoned fans have begun to chirp up, accusing alt-J of “selling out,” by producing more commercially viable music.  And while there is certainly some basis in the accusation, commercial viability is not always a bad thing.  alt-J is honing their musical abilities and their music is evolving, pushing the boundaries of what can be considered indie rock.  The epitome of this boundary push comes in the single “Hunger of The Pine,” with an appearance, albeit very minor, from the twerk-queen herself, Miley Cyrus.  Cyrus can be heard in typical-Miley fashion echoing, “I’m a female rebel” in the midst of “Hunger of The Pine.” All of the changes may seem a bit discouraging, especially considering how impressive the first album was. However, I encourage the change.  After all, diversification drives the music industry, so take that, stubborn hipsters!

The most radically different single of the group, “Left Hand Free,” has already garnered some success.  Downright gritty, marked with an unforgivingly-catchy chorus and accented with funky organ solo, “Left Hand Free” is in notable contrast from much of “An Awesome Wave.”  It could potentially be the single to transport alt-J to new iPods not necessarily attuned to the indie music scene.

For those of you like me who fell in love with “An Awesome Wave,” don’t fret.  The other two new singles released, “Hunger of The Pine” and “Every Other Freckle” secure that alt-J has certainly not forgotten what lifted them from the throes of the British indie rock scene.

Check out “This is All Yours,” due to drop Sept. 22, and while you’re at it, check out “An Awesome Wave.”