Alt-J are that rare thing - a rock band that genuinely has an "alternative" sound. Unlike most such bands, they make use of dynamics and space in music - they are not scared to be quiet or reflective, slow in tempo with every sound and nuance exposed. Each song is a miniature masterpiece with its own instrumentation and each could be the soundtrack to a moody, atmospheric, but very classy, TV drama.
This album makes use of an unusual variety of acoustic instruments as well as including electronics, samples and programmed music. Guitars are subtle and interweave with drums that never overpower and always add interest. "Choice Kingdom" is preceded by an interlude which has a chorus of Recorders and has vocals that could have been the Fleet Foxes with gentle acoustic guitars and percussion. Bloodflood PT II has distant acoustic piano and a brass arrangement of trombones and euphonium, mixed with programmed beats!
Some tracks sound a bit like Sigur Ros , while others are reminiscent of the slower songs on Joy Division's "Closer" - but the whole always makes for a distinctive group sound that is in fact quite unlike anything else going on and there are no concessions made towards commercial acceptance - each track takes its time and unfolds organically and many become virtually instumentals where the arrangement takes over and the vocals just become one part of the overall texture.
Vocals are important with many backing singers and on "Warm Foothills" different singers seem to alternate every word to haunting effect. Elsewhere sampled vocals are layered and at other time harmonised so that they become part of the instrumental timbre. But it's all part of the unique "sound" and the excellent production.
Influences on the band are clearly diverse and nowhere is this more apparent than on the "secret track" that closes the album some time after the others - as "Nara" which opens the album is interwoven with Bill Wither's classic "Lovely Day" - yes that one - sounding as if it was always meant to be there. All in all - about an hour of wonderful music that is effectively unclassifiable and possibly, all the better for that.
Review by Bruce