“The Dream” is an ethereal, stripped down version of Alt-J – The Santa Clara

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During their fifteen years together, Alt-J created music disinterested in genre or form. This alternative rock trio from Leeds, England pushes the boundaries in search of interesting and evocative sounds. It’s safe to say it worked: the band hit hard with songs like “Breezeblocks” and “Left Hand Free.”

More recently, Alt-J released a “remade” version of his latest studio album, titled “Reduxer”, featuring artists like Pusha T and Terrace Martin, with a heavy emphasis on hip-hop and jazz. Today, the pioneering group has just released its fourth studio album: “The Dream”.

The band was formed by Joe Newman, Thom Sonny Green, Gus Unger-Hamilton and Gwilym Sainsbury in 2007, although they parted ways with Sainsbury in 2014. The band have released three studio albums since their 2012 debut, ‘An Awesome Wave”, and garnered both critical acclaim and notoriety within the alternative music scene. This recognition included winning the British Mercury Prize and Grammy nomination for “Best Alternative Music Album“.

Alt-J has constantly expanded and evolved his sound over the course of his discography. Known for his eclectic songwriting and production, each Alt-J record offered a new soundscape and lyrical vibe. For “An Awesome Wave”, dynamic alternative rock with folk influences was the underlying goal. Although on subsequent records “This Is All Yours” and “Relaxer”, Alt-J turned to deep, cutting songwriting with acoustic and electronic flavors. Their new album, “The Dream”, continues their innovative momentum with an emotional and atmospheric collection of 12 new tracks.

While “The Dream” still features Thom Sonny Green’s tasteful drumming, new compositions feature simpler, more laid-back rhythms, compared to previous Alt-J records. The space left by this percussive reduction is filled with adventurous vocal harmonization between Newman and Unger-Hamilton, as well as well-placed samples in tracks like “Walk a Mile” and “Philadelphia.” So while most of the songs on “The Dream” still have a tight, catchy groove, the overall tone has become decidedly more subtle and delicate.

Similar to their intriguing shifts in instrumentation from track to track, Alt-J delivers striking and idiosyncratic lyrical concepts with each song. For users listening on Spotify, the band includes short commentaries for each track, giving context to the wide variety of topics “The Dream” encompasses.

These lyrical escapades begin with the very first track, “Bane”, which tells of a gripping addiction… to soda. The lyrics follow:

“I’ll dive / Swim and drink / And when my parents tell me to come in / I’ll just ignore them and keep drinking / Cola, cola / Sparkling cola […] In the middle of the night, I have a craving and I wake up for you”

Alt-J’s bizarre, even tongue-in-cheek expositions never prevent each track from delving into deeper feelings, as the focus is often on larger themes at the end of the song.

“The Dream” finds its emotional center on the sixth track, “Get Better”. This sweet and detailed song follows the ruminations and memories of the singer’s dying lover. The narrator tries to keep hope alive throughout, and even begins to fantasize after their partner leaves:

“When you come out of intensive care, you’ll cringe at every ‘I love you’ / The card took the life out of a ballpoint pen […] I always pretend you’re just out of sight in another room / I smile at your phone”

However, the mood lightens in the second half of the album. With each song that passes, the uniqueness and surprise of Alt-J’s trippy concepts make listening to “The Dream” thrilling.

Typically, the band includes a lovely acapella interlude, “Delta”, which continues the stripped down, unplugged feel of the album. The album ends with the slow, swinging tunes, “Losing My Mind” and “Powders”.

Holistically compared to earlier records, “The Dream” at its end produces a different take on Alt-J’s style: slower tempo, smoother instrumentation, and patient songwriting. So while not all of the tracks live up to the unfiltered zaniness of previous Alt-J albums, the 49-minute track listing ultimately ties together nicely and suggests in-depth, chronological listening.

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