Music Review: alt-J returns with beautiful, baffling new album, 'This Is All Yours'



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alt-J, "This Is All Yours" (Atlantic)

The new album from alt-J isn't supposed to exist. Nobody, we're told, wants to hear this kind of stuff anymore. The album — and especially this artsy kind of album — is dead.

Yet here is "This Is All Yours": weird, complex, goofy, sublime, baffling and completely unlike anything else out so far this year. You might say the album has arrived just in time, spicing up a bland year with something of a puzzle for listeners who prefer their music complex (or fairly inscrutable, in this case).

"This Is All Yours" is probably a concept album. Maybe about traveling the world and opening your eyes to new experiences. Or about hooking up. Who knows? There's not enough time in the day to sort it out, and a lot of the references are delightfully nonsensical. Singer-guitarist Joe Newman sings about the cool side of the pillow, licking the inside of a snack bag of cookies and Tetris. The band even employs an incongruous — but somehow note perfect — Miley Cyrus sample.

There are some lush, beautiful orchestrations here — most notably the sublime "Warm Foothills" and lilting "Choice Kingdom" — interspersed with the kind of oddball pop that first drew our attention on Mercury Prize-winning debut "An Awesome Wave." Alt-J is at its best when it indulges its weirdest impulses, crafting angular music that bumps along elegantly like a bicycle with triangle wheels.

"Left Hand Free" pleasantly evokes Blitzen Trapper's "Wild Mountain Nation" phase, a ramshackle party with exotic delights (maybe). The pulsing synth bass and Newman's colorful lyrics are a randy come-on (probably) on "Every Other Freckle," awkward and thrilling. And "The Gospel of John Hurt" is a sci-fi tribute to the movie "Alien" (pretty sure on that one).

And then there's "Hunger of the Pine," a slow building song that opens with the electronic beating of a heart, builds with the help of Miley singing "I'm a female rebel" from her song "4x4" on an irresistible loop and finishes in a collage of sound that's dazzling.

What does it mean? No idea. Go listen and figure it out for yourself. If you have the time.

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