Review: alt-J – REDUXER

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Baffling

If 2017's Relaxer was bafflingly incoherent, Reduxer is even more so, with majestic horn sections and orchestral choirs rubbing shoulders with some of rap's biggest names and electronic samples in an album of remixes that only occasionally takes off.

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I think it’s safe to say that British indie trio alt-J are one of the most deliberately confusing acts around in mainstream music right now. With their tracks featuring misguiding lyrics (who knew that ‘Taro’ documented the death of 1950s Vietnam war photographer Robert Capa?) and bewildering samples – ranging from Ely Cathedral’s choir and its heating system, to that infamous “DJ mode” someone would always set off on those keyboards in school music lessons – it’s clear that the band aren’t afraid of pushing the boat out that little bit further, to sometimes astonishing results.

So it was no surprise to see alt-J trying something entirely out of what you would assume is their comfort zone for their latest effort. With Reduxer, the trio have returned to last year’s utterly bizarre Relaxer and made it stranger still. A full-album remix, the core elements of each track remain – if chopped up and sautéed about like a stir-fry in the most bonkers restaurant in the world – with added lyrics and production introduced by a rotating carosel of guest features ranging from Little Simz and Danny Brown to Pusha-T and Rejjie Snow.

The result is as utterly indecipherable as you could imagine it would be. Given Relaxer was difficult to penetrate as it was, to see it remixed and reinterpreted only adds to the eccentricity of the track listing. ‘Pleader’ has gained a new sense of immediacy and vertigo through pounding bass drums and swirling electronic clicks introduced by Trooko and PJ Sin Suela, any haunting atmosphere brought by that Ely Cathedral now erased completely. Two separate remixes of ‘3WW’ differ from the original further still, the version featuring French rapper Lomepal sounding closer to the original but now feeling bolder and more sanguine through the Frenchman’s assured delivery, the version featuring Little Simz accentuating a downright disturbing soundscape by its stripped-back instrumentation and synthetic waveforms that reverberate throughout the background of the track.

Sometimes, this chaotic remixing of already ludicrous tunes serves only to improve them. Adding Twin Shadow and Pusha-T to ‘In Cold Blood’ maintains the meaning of the original – as utterly abberant and petrifying as it was, telling the tale of a particularly stabby pool party – whilst adding a power and urgency that the original lacked. Similarly, the Tuka-featuring ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ and Danny Brown-featuring ‘Deadcrush’ install new majesty and gravitas to previously humble and chaotic tracks respectively through added instrumentation and verses.

So it’s a shame that as many tracks as they do simply go off the rails. Perhaps it was to be expected with so many guests bringing their interpretations to so many cryptically confusing songs that some would end up even more inaccessible than their original mixes. Rejjie Snow’s take on ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’, for example, plays more like those dreadful tunes you’d make on Garage Band as a 10-year-old at times, whilst the strange mix of haunting woodwind instrumentation with slick electronic beats in Terrence Martin and Goldlink’s remixing of ‘Last Year’ completely fails to take off. In the end it leaves Reduxer feeling even more confused and lost as its predecessor, with its scintillating highs matched equally by its nauseating lows.

REDUXER will be available from September 28th via Infectious and BMG.

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I play/watch/listen to things, then write about playing/watching/listening to things. Special powers include downing two litres of tea at a time and binging a 13-episode Netflix series in only 12 hours. Records Editor 2018/19 OMG

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