alt – J are synonymous with atmospheric, quirky music, but Relaxer lies in a completely higher plane of existence. The Leeds’ group’s third album is beautifully haunting, the type of album that echoes in your memory long after that sacred first (and second and third) listen.
On the surface, it’s possible that the record can give off a pretentious ‘too hipster for you’ vibe to those unfamiliar with their music. Take for example, the gaudy artwork from the 1998 PlayStation game ‘LSD’, the mysterious lyrics that touch on everything from binary code to Anne Boleyn, and the hallucinogenic graphics in the video they uploaded for ‘Adeline’. But in the context of the album it works, because the music itself is nothing short of pure art.
The record opens with ‘3WW’, a slow-burning track with creeping vocals. Featuring Ellie Rowsell from Wolf Alice, the song tells a failed love story from two perspectives whose viewpoints combine over soft, poetic harmonising. It’s a romance destined to be doomed, much like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which alt-J allude to.
Imagery of pools and water trickles throughout the album, and makes its first appearance in the track ‘In Cold Blood’, which seems to tell the story of a poolside murder through gritty, repetitive vocals and a fuzzy, brassy hook. In the style of a true murder case, alt-J leave us with a bizarre trail of clues, including the binary code ‘01110011’ at the beginning of the track, which true detectives out there can decipher for themselves (or just use google).
alt-J make a bold move in including their own version of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ on the album, but rather than seeming like a cover, the band make it their own. The tone is much more hopeful and reflective, and it even includes a few verses of their own original lyrics, overall feeling much less sinister than the original folk song.
‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ and ‘Deadcrush’ are brilliantly witty tracks, particularly the former, which oozes danger and rebellion and gritty teen lust. Its lyrics are clever and quick, with a mantra echoing Rage Against The Machine and vocals that at times sound a bit like a frantic Bowie.
‘Adeline’ is the track that really cements this album as alt-J’s best yet. The monumental song sounds more like it belongs on an epic film score rather than an album, and fittingly so, as alt-J actually combined elements of Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for The Red Line into the melody. ‘The Auld Triangle’, made popular by The Dubliners, is also lilted within the song, creating a beautiful atmospheric feel with layers of depth. There’s a strong tone of sorrow and mourning, building to a gorgeous climax that really makes the track stand out as an unforgettable piece.
With Relaxer, alt-J have managed to break out of a niche they created for themselves, and in doing so have constructed a menagerie of tracks that are truly unique and timeless.