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Alt-J - The Dream (Album Review)

Tuesday, 15 February 2022 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: George Muncey

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a pop band’s debut album will often end up being remembered as their best. The reasons are numerous: a group can spend the preceding years honing a catalogue before being pulled into a potentially destructive 12-18 month commercial album cycle, individuals may struggle with the demands of fame and success, or, of course, the creative hunger of one’s youth can disappear. Perhaps it’s a little of all three.

This brings us to Alt-J’s fourth album, and while it would be harsh to say the trio have tailed off dramatically, the five-year gap between 'Relaxer' and their new release has allowed space for doubt to set in. Lest we forget they were vaunted as a kind of 2010s Radiohead—are they fulfilling that potential? Do they deserve to be in that conversation?

Well, perhaps. ‘The Dream’ is a marvellous 12-track record of frequently dazzling storytelling, guiding us through themes of Coronavirus loss, drug-hazed excess, crypto crookery and much more.

That distinctive Alt-J sound is there, diverse, innovative and witty, and it's beefed up on tracks like U&ME and The Actor towards the crunchy rock sound that saw their biggest commercial success with Breezeblocks and Left Hand Free.

The Actor is a real stand out. Apparently an ode to the late comic, John Belushi, it's a sprawling synth groover, telling the story of a gifted performer succumbing to his demons. Hard Drive Gold also sticks out for its dark humour and shout-along chorus, telling the tale of a kid’s exploration of crypto currency despite the protestations of a lefty teacher. “I left and Googled ‘neoliberal,’ he says. It’s great stuff.

Not all tracks stick the landing, though. Philadelphia has some highly dubious opera samples and Losing My Mind is a pretty uneven exploration of mental distress. But, then again, the complexity and breadth of the sonic palette in Alt-J’s music is one of the most demanding in modern pop: they are trying things that other musicians lack the will to.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said that “talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target that no one else can see”. We may still be some way off calling Alt-J the ‘G’ word or seriously likening them to Radiohead, but ‘The Dream’ does keep them in the conversation.

Alt-J Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu May 05 2022 - EDINBURGH Liquid Rooms
Fri May 06 2022 - GLASGOW Barrowland Ballroom
Sat May 07 2022 - GLASGOW Barrowland Ballroom
Mon May 09 2022 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Fri May 13 2022 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Sat May 14 2022 - LIVERPOOL Jacaranda Records
Mon May 16 2022 - OXFORD O2 Academy 2 Oxford
Wed May 18 2022 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Thu May 19 2022 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Fri May 20 2022 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Sun May 22 2022 - DUBLIN 3Olympia Theatre
Mon May 23 2022 - DUBLIN 3Olympia Theatre
Wed May 25 2022 - BELFAST Telegraph Building
Fri May 27 2022 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham
Sat May 28 2022 - BRIGHTON Chalk
Tue June 07 2022 - KINGSTON UPON THAMES New Slang (Pryzm)

Compare & Buy Alt J Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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