Alt-J

This Is All Yours

Alt-JThis Is All Yours
5
The notion of a sophomore album slump is much like the hockey superstition that two goals is the worst margin to lead by; it's not a certainty, but it often rings true, as it does with This Is All Yours. With the weight of award nominations and chart success on their shoulders, including the 2012 Mercury Prize for their debut, An Awesome Wave, the pressure to make something bigger and better seemed to have been too much for the Leeds art-rock band. Founding bassist Gwil Sainsbury didn't even make it to the recording of this album before walking away, and it feels like the remaining trio of guitarist/vocalist Joe Newman, keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton and drummer Thom Green were running low on ideas from the first track.

Their whole shtick feels old hat, the weird interludes and keyboard symbols that gave their debut album some depth and intrigue coming off forced here, and their attempts at anachronistic whimsy looking like the Corsican Brothers. The only interlude here, "Garden of England," sounds like a couple of elementary school kids sitting under a tree, birds singing while they play a decrepit folk song on recorders. "Left Hand Free" has a cheeseball horn sound like a tenor brown note, taking a dump two-thirds of the way through the track. And there are lyrics that match the cringe-worthy musical moments, like when Newman sings "turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet" on "Every Other Freckle," because nothing makes a woman feel sexier than being compared to a shapeless bag of greasy potato chips.

That said, This Is All Yours is not a total disaster. Newman's voice remains one of the most distinctive in music today, a chameleon from one track to the next, and they took some chances in their arrangements. "Hunger of the Pine" even captures some of their magic with a rolling buildup, hip-hop-ish Miley Cyrus hook, present beat, pulsing horns, brooding bass line and bit of French later on. But, when you hear their sound pared down to Newman's weird voice and acoustic guitar, with a little piano and backing vocals on the hook of "Pusher" seguing into the limp electronics and sad brass of "Bloodflood pt.II," it's obvious that although these guys are trying really hard, they haven't found that next level yet. (Infectious)
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