alt-J-This-Is-All-Yours

"This Is All Yours" Alt-J

Alt J

This Is All Yours Album Review

Infectious Records

Released September 22, 2014

Genre: Indie Pop, Experimental Rock, Folktronica, Indie Folk, Art Pop

English trio Alt-J are one of the most prominent up-and-coming bands to come out of the underground music scene in the last few years. Their debut album, 2012’s spectacular An Awesome Wave, introduced the world to a band that fused together folk instrumentation and harmonies and obtuse compositions, all with a pop sensibility to create an almost unprecedented sound. Illustrious guitar leads, rich harmonies, and trip hop influenced drum beats, all with a restrained yet compelling sound, Alt-J, to this day, have been, for me, an artist to keep an eye on.

However, This Is All Yours features some of the most boring tracks the band has ever made. Rather than excite, or take their songs down surprising and visceral turns, they keep the melodies stagnant and safe, never taking a big risk to excite or intrigue. There are quite a few great songs, for example “Nara”,  a beautiful track that adds instrumentation and melodies as it progresses, till its breathtaking climax. The “western-trucker-tongue-in-cheek” joke “Left Hand Free”, despite its absurdity remains as one of Alt-J’s strongest efforts. Or even the outstanding “Every Other Freckle”, which finds Alt-J at the apex of their skills on this album, taking the weird, obtuse, and strange to new heights.

While these tracks, and some more, are all great by their own right, there are still some tracks that dissapoint. Such as the flaccid, folk tune “Choice Kingdom”, a track that sets up a good premise but doesn’t necessarily go anywhere: no surprises, no twists, and no experimenting. Additionally, the disappointing “Bloodflood Pt. II” made me excited at the chance of an alternative, hopefully even better take on their stellar An Awesome Wave cut “Bloodflood”. Yet, the track left me wanting more, as it merely bisected the song, bringing in most of the same lyrics and adding some digital instrumentation. It was not an improvement, nor was it a captivating song. It merely was just, “meh”.

THE VERDICT

While Alt-J are one of the most captivating pop bands out there, this new album of theirs doesn’t do so much. There a few tracks on here that show a very good improvement on their already recognizable sound. But for a majority of the album, the band sounds as if they don’t know which direction to go in. As if they had no guts to move forward, or in their usual fashion, towards a path we never saw coming.

FAV TRACKS: Arrival In Nara, Nara, Every Other Freckle, Left Hand Free, Hunger Of The Pine, Warm Foothills, The Gospel of John Hurt, Leaving Nara

LEAST FAV TRACKS: Choice Kingdom, Bloodflood Pt. II

Score: (6.7/10)

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"Plowing Into The Field Of Love" Iceage

Iceage

Plowing Into The Field Of Love Album Review

Matador Records

Released October 7, 2014

Genre: Punk Rock, Noise Rock, Art Punk, Post-Punk, Gothic Rock, Cow-Punk (Punk Rock with Country influences)

Allow me to catch you up to speed, because this band is criminally under-covered. Formed in 2008,  Danish punk band Iceage who release their debut album, 2011′s New Brigade, introducing the world to a band that combined ferocity and emotion with high energy, otherwise known as a mind-blowing twenty four minutes that melted faces and burst eardrums worldwide. However, it wasn’t until 2013′s You’re Nothing truly showed what Iceage was capable of, and the expectations rose higher.

You’re Nothing not only solidified Iceage’s name in the underground community, but found the band improving their songwriting, flirting with gothic rock by showcasing some influences from bands like Bauhaus and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and intensifying their songs with more noise, energy, and emotion. So when Iceage released “The Lord’s Favorite” as a promotional single for Plowing Into The Field Of Love in late July, the expectations were at an all time high. Highly regarded punk figure, Iggy Pop said in an interview with Australia’s triple j radio that  “[Iceage are] the only current punk band I can think of that sounds really dangerous.” However, once listeners everywhere hit play, heads turned, a lot.

Listen for yourself, I’ll wait:
“Morals” from 2013’s You’re Nothing

“The Lord’s Favorite” from 2014’s Plowing Into The Field Of Love

Very different right? Yet, in my opinion, this incredibly drastic change worked remarkably well. It didn’t seem campy nor did it seem goofy. It’s still nihilistic and dangerous, but with a sepia filter (think Instagram) to it this time around. And throughout Plowing Into The Field Of Love, Iceage continue to experiment and indulge in country music: Western theatrics, banjo solos, rustic guitar twangs, and drumming reminiscent of an old Johnny Cash record. Plowing Into The Field Of Love finds one of our generation’s most prominent punk bands at a crucial creative turning point in their career.

The instrumentation comes with a more theatrical change of pace. Piano balladering, banjo solos, shrill horns, spine-tingling violins, and Irish pub rock ditties replace the dense, flesh burning chords that engulfed New Brigade and You’re Nothing. But one aspect has remained constant: passion. Rønnenfelt’s groans, although incoherent, are incredibly difficult to imitate, especially if you haven’t got the heart or mindset to fully do so. In a way, I feel Rønnenfelt’s singing style has deterred novice listeners; yet novice listeners rarely dig deep into the psyche of Iceage. A psyche that treasures and celebrates the joys and hazards of youth.

Amidst the disorder of styles, you’ll find a band maturing in every facet of their existence: age, songwriting, and instrumentation. Iceage formed when the members were 17; now that they’re in their 20s, they have proven themselves to be a force to be reckoned with. Lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt moans and croons, reminiscent of early Nick Cave and your uncle at his most-drunkest state. However, behind the slurring lies some incredibly morose yet enlightening lyrics: “I always had the sense that I was split in two/ It seems so complicated/ To shift between existence,” sung as if Rønnenfelt is balling like a baby. A sense of precision and elegance solidify Iceage’s transition into this new entity that they’ve encompassed. There’s a moment in the song “Forever”, where trumpets come into the fold of this morose, Western ballad; I found this addition to be quite beautiful. As did I with the banjo solos on “Abundant Living”, the waltzy ‘Stay”, and with the brutal closer, that despite its Western twangs, still lives and breathes like a normal Iceage song, nihilistic to its core but expounded in its beauty.

It’s safe to say that, in a thematic sense, Iceage is the modern reincarnation of Sonic Youth. Around the time when Goo and Dirty were released, Sonic Youth were able to find the perfect balance between the noisy and silence, the control and dissonance. While maintaining their noise rock aesthetic, they were able to have a grasp of the noise and fury, without it getting too out of hand. On Plowing, Iceage do the same; by adding a wider range of instrumentation, Iceage find the perfect balance between growing up and staying young, hinting at an opportunity of maturity but never letting go of their noisy roots.

THE VERDICT With improvement in mind, Iceage craft one of the most creative albums to come out of 2014. Fusing noise rock, gothic rock, country, rockabilly, and punk rock, Iceage show no signs of slowing down, continuously putting down high octane track after track. Surprisingly, the band finds a stable balance between the archaic and the controlled. Iceage may be young, and this new direction may sound as if they’re growing up, but once you hear Rønnenfelt’s drunken slurs, you’ll see that Iceage aren’t ready to grow up just yet. And that’s the way we  like it.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: On My Fingers, The Lord’s Favorite, How Many, Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled, Let It Vanish, Abundant Living, Forever, Cimmerian Shade, Against The Moon, Simony, Plowing Into The Field Of Love

LEAST FAV TRACK: NONE

Score: (9.1/10)