REVIEW : alt-J – THE DREAM (2022)

alt-J were formed at university in Leeds in 2007 and now comprise a core of Joe Newman (lead vocals / guitar), Thomas Stuart Green (drums) and Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards/vocals).

The band won the Mercury Prize in 2012 with their debut album `An Awesome Wave` and the follow up `This Is All Yours` was nominated for a Grammy. They have a fourth album `The dream` released this month which comes after their last release `Relaxer` in 2017. The band have shared that it`s a record about murder, love, Coca-Cola, twisted logic, revenge, crypto currencies, loss, hope and frequently whatever you yourself decide it’s about.

The album opens with `Bane` and a can being opened and drunk with an expression of “cold and sizzling” as a dreamlike synth and guitar chord texture lead us along with some sung sentiments that are almost chanted. It then veers off slightly and almost became an advert for cola (the carbonated soft drink) before returning with vocals that are shared in a slacker type of manner across an eclectic almost psychedelic soundscape, There`s a more captivating feel to `U&ME` which kind of rolls along in a quite mesmerising way with the last third enjoying a strange mix of middle eastern flavours.

`Hard Drive Gold` had an enthralling light and breezy ambience which seemed to nearly sway as it evolved. A number that relates to the hysterical nature of crypto currencies. It enjoys a harder edge towards the end with some delightful organ like swathes and bass line with voices crying out almost in support of not worrying about the perception of avarice in making money with this digital currency.   

The band have shared that `Happier When You’re Gone` is a breakup song of relatable escape on one level; on another, the inversion of Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe, where Joe’s ‘old lady’ refuses to remain in this abusive relationship, kills her tormentor and burns the body. It`s wonderfully diverse with a distant vocal over an electronic beat, followed by almost orchestral strings, a strolling beat and intricate guitar chords and gospel like backing vocals. Strange but so compelling.

`The Actor` is an electronic ballad of sorts, a tale that I read somewhere relates to somebody who sells cocaine to support his dreams in Hollywood and either did or didn’t supply John Belushi with his fatal dose at the Chateau Marmont in 1982. There`s a heartfelt feel to `Get Better` which is about the slow death of a life partner, A difficult but quite intense listen, which has a folk like sense at times and so gentle in it`s presentation that you can hear the guitar frets as finger glide over them.

A thundercrack leads us into `Chicago` which begins quietly with vocals that are nearly whispered before it is overtaken with a fairly fast paced electronic rave like beat and vocals that become nigh on spoken in a confessional way. The concluding part has a delicate piano segment atop as the whispered vocals re-join briefly. There are operatic fragments sliced throughout `Philadelphia` with strings and what sounded almost like a harpsichord giving this piece a cinematic feel at times. A number that sits somewhere between Sparks and The Divine Comedy. It ends bizarrely with a `Yankee Doodle Dandy` ice cream van chime.

`Walk A Mile` is an off key bluesy number that meanders along and seems to relate to a couple who have taken time and tried to understand each other’s experiences, challenges and thought processes. We have a brief A cappella or Sean-Nós offering with `Delta`, which felt quite spiritual.

`Losing My Mind` is probably best summed up by the band as it`s an exploration into the logic of a serial killer, containing so much space it can mean something totally different every time you listen to it, without you having to think of murder at all. This release closes out with `Powders` a dreamy laid back mellow submission which at times seems to be introspective but at other times flirtatious.

`The Dream` is a really captivating and intriguing listen. I have to admit that I wasn`t overly familiar with the bands previous work but having briefly acquainted myself with some, this album seems to be much more eclectic and experimental not only musically but lyrically as well.

Let `The Dream` become a reality in your life.

Rating 9/10