alt-J’s “This Is All Yours” Finds Rhythm in Madness

To listen to alt-J’s new release, “This is All Yours,” is to hear a soft whisper of light fade into a blue sky, rise through the clouds, and perch happily at the edge of the moon, gleefully defying gravity.

It’s rare for a band to develop a style so unique, yet so infectious, as alt-J’s, and the trio has that one oh-so-special secret ingredient that every restless artist craves. alt-J, or for the more geometrically inclined, ∆, plants each note, each rattle, each rhythmic rat-a-tat-tat right at the edge of a yawn and each listener at the edge of their seat. It causes your blood to flood to your heart.

The magic of “This is All Yours” is in its carefully crafted creation. From the first hint of a “La-la-la” that starts off the deceptively titled “Intro,” alt-J’s helpless listener is strapped to a coaster of constant motion. Each subsequent beat of “Intro” feeds into the next, and it feels like it could extend for an eternity, only to loop into a spiral of lyrical madness and genius intertwined.

There’s something at the tip of the music’s tongue as vocalist Joe Newman croons out in a dark grin of plagiarism, “Escher wanna draw shit ❦ I pop clips ❦ Bitch, I draw my piece to my hip.”

If you just keep listening, you won’t notice the words. The music is driven by a primal force that seems so intent on its purpose of…

“What?” a listener might blurt out…

It’s that “what” that makes alt-J and “This is All Yours” so special and unique.

Everything about each individual track is random. It’s structured. It’s vague. It’s sincere. It begs to see the sun shine through the leaves. It watches a film of a small plastic bag being abused by the wind. It loops. It re-loops. It fades into oblivion, then emerges in baptism. It glistens with the raindrops that litter the spider’s web. It captures the soul of the constant wanderer, searching for a purpose. It gazes up to the blue sky in awe as it fades to red in the expanse.

What alt-J began with their debut, “An Awesome Wave,” was a careful trick to lure in the group’s newfound mainstream audience. The band began as four university students who found a shared solitude in music. At one point, the four men called themselves “Films.” That didn’t work out due to copyright reasons, but the reasoning behind the name rings true in every note that has come out of whatever machine is rotating the set of gears that is alt-J. The hook was set, and the band tugs hard to pull that audience into the beautiful madness of “This is All Yours.”

Even when ∆ is in its most approachable state in the Miley Cyrus sampling “Hunger of the Pine,” there is something in the music that stretches into endless unknown.

There is an infinity hidden in the slow, soft, saintly chant sung, “Realization~grew~on~me~as~quick~the~acid~takes~your~hand~and~warms~the cold ~side~of~the~pillow.” It’s found in the depths of a corporate push toward that Top-40 timeline. Don’t think this isn’t part of ∆’s conscious web of rhythm. Like a 4X4 cube, it is simple. And yet, it’s still capable of becoming a die, acting as an agent of sonic chaos with a glint in its eye.

Rustin Cole has seen what this machine is creating. John Locke saw it in the eyes of a smoke monster in the early 2000s. John Hurt felt it coming out of the woodwork as the alien tore through his guts. The band knows the hints dipped around pop culture. It searches for the mystery. It implies an implication that it’s hidden in the hieroglyphs, and in the fire that drives the magnets in the circuits in the world’s new tech. It’s in the spirit of the staircase. It’s tricking someone into believing the reality of something that isn’t real. It relishes in the spin of the final totem in “Inception.” It pulls the rabbit out and makes it disappear. It hits the gong. It wishes to make the unknown known.

alt-J has turned music into a drug, and it’s dangerously addictive. The band simply asks that you “wait by the line.” What started ages ago during the dawn of the hippie was a psychedelic seed that has withstood the test of time. It’s battled the disjointedness of punk. It bounced along with reggae. Jah peace. Amun-Ra. It waltzed, and it rustled. It grew up strong. It embraced melophobia in a purple wave, and made its bed in the ebony and ivory. The music evolved into shapes, and the shapes devolved into music. It’s cyclical, and it’s spinning, and I don’t think the band wants you to stop looking. Look at it. Look for…

∆ has taken Thom Green, Gus Unger-Hamilton and Joe Newman hostage. The band is a machine that its members must enter. It’s their redaction. It’s playing… with the tick-tock of time. Have we been here before? It’s a labyrinthine maze that causes men to lose minds – a green, choice, new kingdom that hungers to hunger. It wants to want. It feels to feel. It has surgical precision, tracking back to your iris, piercing, “E-X-T-I-N-C-T.”

You can feel it in the sound waves when the volume maxes out and you see the flies sitting perfectly still in that soft moment of infinitesimal verisimilitude as the band sits silent on the studio side of those headphones. Static tessellates with static. And does it mean… What?

∆ grabs its audience by the throat as they gasp for more. It stares into their souls and whispers, “this is all yours,” before it fades into fractals, blended by the light.

It references itself. Its magic makes you think, “have I been here before?”

It has given us a gift, and the album art is pretty. Take it. It’s shiny. It’s all yours. And in it, you’ll find it.

∆ has it.

Whatever it is. It sits ‘round the round table with the Knights who say “Ni!”

It shushes and shines. It’s a pusher. It pulls.

Destruction, creation, and destruction – all left in the wake.

What brave soul went to the precipice to bring back this gift?

From the land of fear and loathing, a lotus springs forth.

And none of us know how to worry.

It creates space in the sound. It reads time like a book.

It’s the fountain of youth. It makes the old become young.

It’s that something. That whisper… At the tip of your…

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