Back in 2007, four talented and ambitious young chaps from Leeds University came together and formed an experimental Indie band in their student halls. This groundbreaking creation would come to be known as alt-J. alt-J gradually built up a steady following over the years before bursting onto the mainstream in the summer of 2012 with their debut album An Awesome Wave. The album was a riveting success, well received by critics and fans alike and the winner of the 2012 British Mercury Prize. This success, combined with the departure of bassist Gwil Sainsbury, meant that when the band’s dreaded second album was announced in 2014, the pressure was well and truly on.
Many a band has taken the world by storm with their debut release, only to fall victim to second album syndrome and fade into insignificance. Fortunately, as anyone who has listened to ‘Hunger of the Pine’ or ‘Every Other Freckle’ could have already guessed, this has not been the case for the ever-innovative alt-J. This is All Yours lives up to the hype and it does so beautifully.
This is all Yours picks up exactly where An Awesome Wave left off, delivering the same wonderfully indescribable and unique sound that alt-J fans have come to love. After a brilliantly orchestrated intro, the tone of the album is set by ‘Arrival in Nara’ and the listener’s journey begins. Presumably “Nara” refers to the Japanese city of the same name, whose natural beauty seems to have provided the band with plenty of inspiration. “To be a deer in Nara” pines Joe Newman in the gentle and touching ballad ‘Nara’, which tells the story of a gay man’s simple desire to marry in a world too closed-minded to allow it. This is followed by the lustful ‘Every Other Freckle,’ a song saturated with some of the most inventive sexual metaphors you’ll hear in a long while. “Turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet” definitely deserves a few bonus points for creativity.
The album takes a real change of direction with ‘Left Hand Free’, a single written solely to appease the band’s American record label. This clearly shows through the Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque sound of what the band has described as “the least alt-J song ever”. Despite the track’s stark contrast to the rest of the album, fans and newcomers alike won’t be able to resist singing along. Our journey through Nara continues with a return to the band’s regular sound, with highlights to be found in the tracks ‘Hunger of the Pine’, ‘The Gospel of John Hurt’ and ‘Bloodflood pt.II’. Our journey through Nara comes to an end with the fittingly titled ‘Leaving Nara’, leaving us with a wonderfully experimental cover of Bill Wither’s ‘Lovely Day’ to bring the album to a gentle, dignified close.
Sainsbury’s departure has undoubtedly had some effect on the remaining trio’s sound. However, the band have coped with their loss of a bassist amicably, improvising to keep their signature style alive. Many will consider this album to be more of the same from alt-J, but given the massive success of An Awesome Wave, more of the same should be exactly what most listeners are after.
This Is All Yours is out now through Infectious records.