thu 07/07/2022

Album: Alt-J - The Dream | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Alt-J - The Dream

Album: Alt-J - The Dream

Still unclassifiable, the arch experimenters excel themselves once more

Joel Wyllie

A decade since they picked up the Mercury prize for An Awesome Wave, Alt-J’s latest creation is highly likely to do the double. This is phenomenal work (but one hell of a challenge to describe). Those familiar with the band’s evocative, unclassifiable sound will understand. But if you’ve never come across their work – lucky you, you’ve got a treat in store.

Distinctively idiosyncratic, this isn’t just more of the same. It’s Alt-J max. And that’s a very good thing.

There’s nothing straightforward about their music or lyrics. In fact, that latter can be puzzling. Allegedly, a lot of this album is about murder. And yet there’s more than a nod to medieval madrigals in the harmonies (and paradoxically, Simon and Garfunkel). Singles "U&ME" and "Hard Drive Gold" are probably their most accessible songs to date (but eschew a formula). Opening track "Bame" is a laid-back paean to Coca-Cola (of course) – "ice cold black fuel".

"Happier When You’re Gone" concerns an abused wife experiencing “homelessness at home” who kills and then burns her persecutor. "The Actor" follows a resting thespian on his drug delivery rounds. Then comes a shocker – a traditional love song. "Get Better" clearly has its roots in the horrors of the pandemic and might, in the hands of others, have resulted in something mawkish. But Joe Newman’s extraordinary, hypnotic voice takes it to another level. "Chicago" is a menacing, spectral concoction; "Philadelphia" is an extraordinary piece of music, shimmering and spatial and replete with a turn from an opera singer. And again relating to murder – this time from the victim’s perspective. "Walk a Mile" starts all barbershop quartet before mellowing out into a hugely evocative love song. And there’s much more; every listen reveals still further layers of mesmerising complexity and skilled musicianship. Soaring and sinister, The Dream is hugely varied yet this could only be the work of Alt-J. It is experimental and harmonious, haunting and perplexing but ultimately glorious.

Kathryn Reilly's website

Distinctively idiosyncratic, this isn’t just more of the same. It’s Alt-J max

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