Please read the review for my full and not at all sarcastic opinions.
So. The indie rock band alt-J, like Coldplay but on helium and with more interesting lyrics, have made a surprising return after four years. They have a new single. It is called ‘U&ME’. It sounds nice. It is alright. I find it pleasant to listen to.
There are so many things to note regarding this song that it’s difficult to know where to start. You’ll notice, perhaps, because I’ve already said this, that the song is called ‘U&ME’. Now that may look odd, but – get this – it’s actually pronounced ‘You And Me’. Yes? Do you get that? The word ‘You’ is substituted for the letter ‘U’. This is stunning innovation. After all, it’s still 2007, using text language in song titles is still a novelty and Olivia Rodrigo doesn’t exist.
According to the band, this song is about “being at a festival with your best friends, having a good time, togetherness, and the feeling in life that nothing could be any better than it is right now”. This is clearly a very profound meaning that doesn’t at all sound like the kind of feeling that every single other indie band wishes to evoke. After all, 5 Seconds Of Summer are called 5 Seconds Of Summer because that’s how long they spent rehearsing, and not AT ALL because they want to evoke memories of festivals and hedonistic pursuit of pleasure. That isn’t how the music industry works – labels and bands never try to brainwash you with such things, right?
Also, did I mention alt-J’s forthcoming fourth album is called The Dream? Again, this is such a profound title with so many different meanings (albeit none of which make themselves apparent to me). It doesn’t at all sound like a random pretentious faux-provocative title plucked out of the band’s arse. And it’s not like a quick look on Wikipedia reveals that at least six other albums have already taken that title.
Alright, I’ll drop the facade, as some context is necessary. I heard alt-J’s debut album, An Awesome Wave, right as I was starting secondary school. It was the soundtrack to a crucial period in my life, and its unusual lo-fi sound still holds up in a world of Bandcamp vapourwave and number 1 albums produced from bedrooms. This Is All Yours was also decent, but saw the band’s sound slightly neutered to appeal to the masses – a move which evidently worked given how the album went to number 1. I enjoyed 2017’s Relaxer, and still regard it to be their most interesting album – it introduced me to Osamu Sato, and ‘In Cold Blood’ and ‘Last Year’ are excellent songs. However, alt-J started to lose their goodwill in the press by this point, with Pitchfork dismissing the band in an album review as “perfectly nice, perfectly blank lads who have no idea why they are standing in front of you and even less of an idea what to say”.
After the Reduxer grime remix compilation, the band disappeared and reduced to a touring act – to be honest, I never expected that they would release another album.
Well, now they are. I worry that Pitchfork’s prediction may come true (for once). I hope I’m wrong, but I may well have moved on from alt-J’s faux-deep indie musings, which seem innovative when you’re 13 and naive, but not when you have a wider view of the music industry and the fact that alt-J are, bar a couple of technicalities, no more distinctive than The Vamps. The Smith’s vocals are warm and comforting, the melodies are nice, but you have to tie that all with decent subject matter. alt-J haven’t done a bad job of this in the past, but with such a bland name for both the next album AND its lead single, I don’t think I’ll get my hopes up.
alt-J’s fourth album The Dream set to be released in February next year. Watch the video for ‘U&ME’ below: