Verdict: 1.5 / 5
Back in 2012, my grumpy old comments about Alt-J’s debut album was that it felt pretentious, derivative, unambitious, hipster, and that the lead singer had an annoyingly unbearable voice. I stand by those claims, for their second album, This is All Yours, has reaffirmed my position, with the added punch that it now feels like they are copying even themselves, as very little seems changed, challenged, or evolved from the prior effort.
The majority of this album was apparently writing during the touring alt-J did for their first album, and I could believe it, as it mostly feels like a collection of songs that were cut from the final track list, and have now found an overflow space to inhabit. It doesn’t even seem to have much of the same punch as that album had, for all its faults. alt-J have consistently varied between pop and electronica, with the latter capturing many of the more high spirited moments from the band, with the former being more laidback and reserved for quieter moments. However, aside from leading track “Hunger of the Pines,” the mood never seems to lift much, and we are left with mumbled passive-aggressiveness from the majority of the rest of the tracks. The aforementioned track also features an incredibly oddly-placed and unnecessary sample from Miley Cyrus of all people, and the way that its used just makes me feel even more that many of the artistic choices of this album were made by simply throwing something together without really thinking “why” or “what is the purpose of this here?.”
I get it alt-J. Radiohead have done this mumbled, half-whiny thing that on occasion comes across as artistic before, and you are doing the same now. However, although they aren’t my favourtie band, I can at least recognize the artistry in many of Radiohead’s works, and the skill put forward to make them. I am an enormous fan of indie style music, and the mediums in which they are formulated, by sometimes inexperienced artists who have a voice to share and who need a place to express themselves. However, alt-J is an experienced band now, extremely critically acclaimed as well, that need to up their game. Random samples of Asian monks chanting mixed together with something that sounds like songbirds on a summer’s field may feel like they are artistic, but without a stronger focus for why they are there, beyond simply “it makes it sound arty,” it will just end up irritating me more. True art may be incomprehensible at times, but it is certainly not lazy. alt-J need to think a lot more about how to structure their albums as a cohesive whole if they want their third release to propel them up into critical acclaim once more.
Plus the lead singer’s voice is still quite possible the most annoying thing I have ever heard in my life. With a mixture of what sounds like whining and mocking rather than singing, I feel that I can never state this fact enough. But I will at least try to respect them more if they try harder in turn.