After my review on U2’s Songs of Innocence, which I wrote a week after it was released, I thought to myself: ‘Isn’t it interesting to see how the albums we listen to are marketed?’ We don’t want to accept it, but nowadays success is measured in likes, clicks and streams, and marketing is a huge part of it. How does the commercial success of an album, as great as it may be, compare to the production value and songwriting? This is review is the official first of a series called “Last Week’s Releases” and I’ll try to explain to you, why you’re listening to this record right now.
First of all, I love alt-J. Ever since their first record An Awesome Wave (“Nomen est omen,” as the Romans would say) the Brits made a huge splash and set out to conquer the musical world. Their success is a no-brainer, it is in fact a logical development of a strain of hipsters that actually know music, as they mingle classical elements with minimal dub-hip-hop beats and catchy pop-hooklines. An Awesome Wave was so well written and produced, that it crashed on to 2012’s music scene like a tsunami (excuse the pun). After such a formidable debut, the followup is the trickiest part. Many bands have failed to deliver after the fact, and basically vanished from the face of popular music, only recognized by few hardcore fans. Today’s music industry is hard to take, and even harder to hold.
That said, the band did everything right respective this release: By dropping the album a little over two years after their debut, and about a year after the peak of their success from the first album, people still weren’t done listening to it. “Breezblocks” to this day has over 55 Million plays on Spotify, numbers still rising. They rolled their assets out well, too, by first releasing “Hunger Of The Pine,” sampling Miley Cyrus, followed by the goofy “Left Hand Free” and “Every Other Freckle,” which might be the best song of 2014 so far, as well as music videos to every song. Combined with the fact that alt-J is a band that Zoolander’s Mugatu would call “so hot right now;” the hype around the album, obvious on various social networks – certainly supported by my humble self, scored traction on every notable music publication, securing pre-release Spotify streams in multiple countries and a first listen on iTunes Radio in the States, interrupted by very annoying commercials (thank you very much, Apple). But you know what? I couldn’t stop listening anyways.
This Is All Yours sounds like a magical empire that awaits you secretly and silently in your closet. Each track flows seamlessly into the next, carrying motives and continuing story lines, not unlike the popular fantasy series by C.S. Lewis. This might be an obvious thought because of “Nara,” the place alt-J arrives, sings about and leaves at the end of the record, which sounds oh so similar to “Narnia,” but honestly, that’s just way to obvious to be true. Let’s not talk about lyrics and titles. Let’s talk about the music.
From the first track to the last, technically “Leaving Nara,” but let’s include hidden track “Lovely Day” (originally by Bill Withers) for the heck of it. As mentioned, the songs flow into one another, building up a storyline, developing characters. You’ll find many motives from early songs on the record later on again, but not obviously – they’re woven into intricate structures and ever changing melodies so it’s hard to detect them. The album, in fact, listened to as the makers intended it to, resembles a sonata, or symphony, not only because of the actual classical influences like the gregorian chorals in “Every Other Freckle” or the baroque-esque chord progressions in “Nara.” Instead of piano sounds, they use an organ synth. You can hear xylophone and flutes. Heck, in “Bloodflow Pt. II” the band even reprises motives from the first record – if that ain’t typical for classical music, I’ll eat a bag of horseshit.
And yet there is still this heavy dub-beat, the electric guitar hook lines, Joe Newman’s mesmerizing vocals. The singles stand out at first, because they are the poppiest of the rest of the album tracks, “The Gospel of John Hurt” excluded. But then you really listen, and you realize that every song, even the awkward flute piece “Garden of England – Interlude,” has its crazy catchy moments. An Awesome Wave was a novelty back then, and This Is All Yours is its continuation – part two of the trilogy if you will. There are more quiet moments on the record, such as the tender “Warm Foothills” or “Pusher,” but that’s mostly just a vague first impression as well. There’s so much going on in these songs – with all the commotion in music nowadays we simply forget, what a well placed instance of silence in a song can do.
I will have to say, as much as I loved the album from the first second: This album might have to grow on you, for the very reason of it being so unique and weird. Nonetheless it made it in the Top 10 of several countries in Europe, and the iTunes Top 30 in the U.S. – which, considering the high-carat releases of the past couple of weeks, surely is an accomplishment. But it’s also well deserved. I would go to Nara with these boys on any given day, if they just don’t stop singing to me.
Article by: Julia Maehner
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