Generally speaking the creation of a second album is always a difficult process, especially if your first album has had vast success. However this issue may be deepened if, say, your debut is not only elected for the Mercury Prize, but is also the selected winner. With An Awesome Wave taking home the notorious prize in 2012, for Alt-J it was always going to be a hard feat to follow as a slab of added pressure and curiosity was served on the table. Though Mercury is viewed with high esteem, some believe having the award bestowed upon artists so early on in their career can be of more a hindrance, than a benefit (an example highlighted by Damon Albarn’s request to have the Gorillaz debut removed from the list in 2001. However this could be an over-reaction, as Dizzee Rascal (2003) and Arctic Monkeys (2006), have both gone on to progress successfully in the industry. But how does This Is All Yours measure up on the scale of Albarn’s theory?
‘Intro’ begins lightly as “la la lahs” are repeated on a loop, lying down the foundation of the sound as pensive soaring keyboards, replicating an organ and inklings of Mediterranean resonance are scattered in between the layers, as the song becomes heavier and darker bass lines kick in. ‘Arrival In Nara’ and ‘Nara’, highlights the group’s eagerness to take listeners an narrative auditory journey, as the titles replicate the telling of a tale. Delicate guitar picking, segments of fragile piano, classical violins and Joe Newman’s softer tones and the harmonies (we came to the love group for), are melded together to produce a subdued chapter to the narrative. ‘Nara’ expands on the sound, as religious chorals of “Hallelujah” creates grandeur and contributes a vastness to the record.
The strength of This Is All Yours lies in the mid section of this album, including their single release ‘Every Other Freckle’ which possesses an animalistic quality as Newman sings willingly “devour me” amidst the tribal drumming and rumbling bass which is at the core of the record. As well as offering the vivid metaphors the group do so well such as “...turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet”, the playful lyricism and ear wormy riff in ‘Left Hand Free’ makes it an irresistible piece as Alt-J offer their take on the blues. ‘Hunger of the Pine’ features subtle flickering alarm bleeps, which composes an intriguing aural encounter, as hauntingly eerie brass instruments and electronic minimalism integrate. Meanwhile ‘Warm Foothills’ treads in the realm of folk, and with additional female vocals courtesy of Lianne La Havas, Sivu and Marika Hackman, this track becomes a romantic duet between two lovers as they finish one another’s sentences.
Unfortunately the tail-end of the album grows increasingly monotonous and struggles to develop. The inclusion of ‘Bloodflood Pt.2’ offers familiarity, as an extension of the original song on An Awesome Wave but you can’t help thinking perhaps this is a sign that new ideas were running thin. In short, the album checks in at a halfway house which is neither dull nor innovative, but provides fans with a comfortable listen. Maybe Albarn had a valid point after all?
Words: Lois Browne