Album Review: The Dream- Alt-J
Alt-J is BACK, baby!! It's been a long, long five years since their last album, but the trio finally returned with their fourth album, The Dream, ahead of their massive tour with Portugal. the Man which kicks off later this month.
Alt-J struck absolute gold with their first two albums, supported by extremely popular singles like "Breezeblocks" and "Left Hand Free" among other huge singles. Their music transcends the standard of normal indie pop music. Not only do they often interlope electronic music on top of Joe Newman's amazing falsetto and harmony, their lyrics tell stories like that out of a novel where you can't stop turning the pages. From references to Where the Wild Things Are ("Breezeblocks"), songs that sound light and innocent, but are about sex ("Tesselate"), drugs ("Dissolve Me"), to even songs like "The Actor" on the new album which is a fictitious re-telling of the death of John Belushi. What other band is going this route with their lyricism?
Most die-hard Alt-J fans will tell you that the last album, Relaxer, was an extremely low point for the band. Although I do see it as a step down from the previous two albums as it did see them almost dial back a lot of the quirks and "weirdness" that we come to know and love in favor of something that might sell a little bit better to the masses. Beyond "In Cold Blood" making it to commercials, I'd say it wasn't a huge success. The Dream sees us come back to basics. It might be at a bit of a slower pace, but it goes back to their old sound, ditching the more pop-friendly tropes from Relaxer and I'd say that's a good thing. The band does a really good job of painting the picture that their first two albums did, but writing songs for this day and age. I have had "Hard Drive Gold" on repeat since it was released as a single last month and I never thought I could love a song about the crypto craze. However, it is now my go to hype song of 2022, specifically the build of "Don't be afraid to make to make money, boy" until it crashes into a subtle "Give me that gooooooold straight into my hard-drive."
While listening to the album, I noticed I was growing really fond over "Get Better" which I had written off when it was released as a single because, honestly, I found it boring. With more listens though, I've found it to be a tremendously beautiful, painful song about grief. From the first, hopeful chorus of "Get better my darling, I know you will" to the bleak, final lyric of "I still pretend you're only out of sight," the roller coaster of emotion is absolutely gut-wrenching.
Outside of the singles, my standout track is "Happier When You're Gone." I absolutely love the falsetto of the opening line that goes into a sound that almost sounds like a firework soaring into the sky before it's big explosion. Add to that a chorus that's backed by strings and powerful harmonies, it is a beautiful moment in an album that is a true return to form.
I'm so glad to see Alt-J still pushing boundaries over a decade after their debut. I'm so happy to be along for this ride.