Once again, the polarizing British trio alt-J(∆) find themselves treading upon uncharted regions of sound, pinioned by bold production and sweltering, multi-layered melodies in their latest record Relaxer. The record draws from the best qualities of alt-J’s previous work and expounds upon it, maximizing its brief, sub-40 minute time frame. The juxtaposed styles explored in their latest is a paramount feat considering there are only eight tracks to delve into.
“3WW” initiates Relaxer with immersive slow burn profoundness aided by Ellie Rowsell’s (Wolf Alice) guest vocals. This track ventures into an abyss of intimate breadth and emotional fragility, escalating it into a tangible world where a warm and crackling bonfire exists at its core. ”3WW” signals a more mature alt-J — attentive to the intricacies of their inventive songwriting. Its folktronica essence establishes a moody, sonic precedence for the remainder of the album with the exception of a few raucous curveballs.
Promptly after the ruminative “3WW,” the binary spewing “In Cold Blood” puts Relaxer in a boisterous tailspin, harkening back to alt-J’s quirky roots. This track pulls in smooth, brooding horn sections to contrast its uproarious percussion and synthesized organ tones which manifests into a familiar crescendo that has made their music worthwhile in the past.
The trio’s pacifying, pseudo-cover of the famed folk hit, “House of the Rising Sun” transpires as one of the album’s most enchanting moments. alt-J’s majestic and emotionally diminishing rendition melts like wax and warps its listener into a slackened state where assuredness overarches life’s contemptuousness. Relaxer gives off a folk-like impression and its vulnerable gratuity makes it so. However, it is unlike any traditional folk music. Tracks like “Hit Me Like a Snare” and “Deadcrush” place this folky perspective into sonic apprehensiveness. With “Hit Me Like a Snare,” the trio flaunts a big middle finger at those who try to put their sound into a box, flaring rapturous pounding of cowbell, vocal trickery and primal guitar work. Relaxer reboots to its juxtaposed poignancy with “Adeline” and “Last Year,” which sets a pivotal stage tethered by orchestral bliss in the album’s crowning moment, “Pleader.” The final track swoops in, breathes and grows into unspeakable beauty. “Pleader” is inaugurated by tender guitar plucking but gradually mounts into tear-inducing extravagance swathed in hair-raising percussion, sweeping synths and verdant brass instrumentation — all tied together by the euphonic harmony of Gus Unger-Hamilton and Joe Newman’s vocals.
The acclaimed trio of alt-J refuses to fall into pandering grasps. Overall, Relaxer is vivid, brave and fully realized. Its off-kilter nature deploys a contemporary nuance unraveled by an orchestral ambiance — making for a lavish and befuddling projection of musical ingenuity.