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Junk Mail: Alt-J 'This Is All Yours' Album Review

by Carolyn Menyes   Sep 24, 2014 17:37 PM EDT

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Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Kyle Dowling and Caitlin Carter chat about Alt-J's new album This Is All Yours. Feel free to join the conversation in the comments section, and check back next week for more.

Kyle Dowling: There are some albums I listen to where I think, I would never have thought to write that song like that, and it always stops me in my tracks. Alt-J'This Is All Yours is exactly that to me. This album, not to sound like a teenager with lack-o-vocabulary, is insanely cool. It's creative, it's different, it's innovative and I loved it all ... which surprised me because I recently saw them on Conan and felt a little disappointed. However, I'm going to chalk that up to me not paying close enough attention because this album is undeniably wonderful to my ears. I'm always fascinated when I see people approach music in an original way, and that is totally what happened here. It's a great listen and I recommend!

Ladies ... your thoughts?

Carolyn Menyes: Alt-J has always been a little underwhelming to me. I know that most music critics looove them. And, Kyle, you're right they're "cool." But, I've never been cool so I don't care. There's something really droll about these guys to me — and Interpol is one of my favorite bands. I CAN DO droll. I guess my biggest fault with Alt-J has been I never thought they were unique enough. It's a little too much like every other sleepy indie act to me.

That being said ... I like This Is All Yours more than Alt-J's debut album. It had a few pickups for me that helped to break this all up.

Caitlin Carter: So it's interesting that we are coming at this review from three very different perspectives, which I like. I have been a huge fan ever since I heard An Awesome Wave and have been waiting for this album to drop for some time now.

What I love about This Is All Yours is the subtle nerdiness to it all. These dudes are all about their computers, I mean their name is a freaking Mac shortcut, and they've transported me into what seems like some forest of Dungeons and Dragons, which probably doesn't sound, to quote Kyle, "cool" but definitely is. They've succeeded in making this dream-like effort into something socially diverse and interesting. That's what's always drawn me to Alt-J, is that they are sonically unpredictable. I don't feel like this album is better than their debut, but they are definitely still doing their thing.

KD: I'll have to claim ignorance about their debut because I honestly haven't listened to it. I do know, however, that This Is All Yours was really interesting to me, whether it be the lulls or the more fast-paced tracks. I loved the band's ability to shift from the slow-tempo'ed "Nara" to something totally different like "Left Hand Free." I'm a big fan when each song on an album sounds rather unexpected. And I totally got that here. Kudos, fellas!

CM: Even though Alt-J as a whole doesn't tend to interest me, I will have to give it up that this album is more dynamic than I expected. Though I do think you're giving it too much credit for all these twists and turns — the album really just builds up to its more interesting, upbeat songs. The only non-dragging songs at the top of the album are "Left Hand Free" and "Every Other Freckle" (kind of). The package as a whole doesn't really pick up until track nine (of 14), and that's enough to make my eyelids heavy.

I'm being a little overly critical, but someone has to be!

CC: I totally agree that it sort of drags along, but that wasn't a negative thing for me. The twists and turns I think are in the details within songs, not really within the album as a whole — song to song, if that makes sense. I love his use of different languages, too, because it emphasizes that it's more the sounds than the words that are important on the record because, let's be honest, most of what he says is incomprehensible.

KD: I'd agree, the twists within the songs very much stood out to me. And though it did hold a dragging feel, it wasn't enough to make my eyelids heavy. Even with that "Garden of England — Interlude." I don't know why.

CM: Can you name, specifically, one of these "twists?" Maybe I'm not listening carefully enough but nothing really throws me for a loop. This all just sounds like Alt-J to me.

I will admit I'm playing devil's advocate a little bit here. I think the second half of this album is pretty good, after that god-awful Miley Cyrus sample, of course. "Left Hand Free" is one of my 50 favorite songs of the year. Finally, I do like this more than An Awesome Wave, which I gave a terrible review of in college. So, you know, I recognize this is not actually a bad album.

I feel like a weird indie rock fan because something makes me think I should like Alt-J more than I do ... I don't know. I prefer Grizzly Bear.

But this got me on the track ... what do you think of "Hunger of the Pine" and the Cyrus thing? I remember when that came out I thought it was SO thirsty for publicity. She tweeted about it, random websites that would never write about Alt-J otherwise reported on it and I rolled my eyes for like 10 minutes straight because of it.

CC: I didn't see it as much as being thirsty. I don't picture these guys really caring about being "cool" but more throwing people for a loop with something unexpected. I also feel like it was probably a random decision for them and not something particularly thought-out. But that's obviously all in my imagination as I haven't spoken to them. The sample is definitely disjointed and jarring in the song. It really almost sounds like you accidentally left her song playing in another tab, but once you wrap your head around it, it sort of works. At least for me.

KD: I'm using "twists" in a very liberal fashion. The album just has a lot of unexpected variations and instrumental tactics that I personally am impressed by because I wouldn't think to do it that way. I'm not a big indie rock guy but I think the guys are being rather creative with what they've got.

Which tracks just didn't do it for you?

CM: Well, I already expressed my distaste for "Hunger of the Pine," and I could go on about that for longer than is necessary or healthy. The song itself is fine, but, my God, that Cyrus thing just destroys it for me on so many levels. Without it, that song could've been really atmospheric and weird and cool. But NO LET'S THROW SOME BANGERZ IN THERE SO MARIE CLARE WILL WRITE ABOUT US.

As a whole, I don't necessarily dislike anything on this album, at least not an individual song. I'm being negative here (at least relatively), but it's just because the entire package makes me feel bored. As individual four-minute nuggets, I think it's all fine. Nothing is egregious.

CC: Anything you guys particularly enjoyed? I'll start.

My favorites were "The Gospel of John Hurt," "Bloodflood Pt. II" and "Every Other Freckle" (despite its creepy lyrics). I also liked "Left Hand Free," but it just feels like a Black Keys song.

KD: Is it weird that I really dug the "Intro"? It seemed to me like some sort of weird movie score. I liked! Other than that I very much enjoyed "Every Other Freckle," "Left Hand Free" and "Bloodflood Pt. II."

CM: I, too, dug "Left Hand Free" the most. Though the second half of the album was more solid as a whole, I have to give it up to "Nara" for being strikingly beautiful. The first two songs were beyond boring, but that was the first one that pulled me out of my slumber.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

CM: I think the reason why I'm ultimately unimpressed by Alt-J in the end is because I always just want more from them. I'm hungry for an indie or alt band to blow me away, and they've just never done it. Call me too harsh, it's probably true. But I just want greatness. Overall, this album is really solid. Definitely better than Alt-J's debut and more solid than most of the stuff we've reviewed lately. But, you know, it's all about expectations.

KD: I feel like I went into this album with very low expectations and left totally surprised. I was grabbed from the first song and am rather excited for what Alt-J will produce in the future. Until then, I think this album sits as a great piece of music and a wonderful representation of the band and what they are capable of doing. Well done!  

CC: Coming into this album I was hoping for the best but curious how they would follow up An Awesome Wave. Although I don't find this record to be superior, I thought it was interesting and predictably unpredictable. A bit gratuitous at times, but it kept me on my feet as far as what elements would be coming next. I mean, who was expecting that baroque-y interlude? I think we'll be able to come to some definitive ideas on the band come Album 3, perhaps. But they haven't lost me as a fan yet, that's for sure.

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