alt-J’s ‘Relaxer’ loses itself in its cloudy weirdness

Ian Caramanzana

Two stars

ALT-J Relaxer

Here’s the thing: alt-J never really had a sound. The British indie rockers, now a trio, began with smart, noisy alt-pop on their 2012 debut, An Awesome Wave. On 2014’s This is All Yours, they fused their acoustic folk sensibilities with multi-instrumental prowess and structured songwriting—earning Radiohead comparisons along the way. So it’s only natural that alt-J would continue experimenting in its 10th year. At bare bones, the band’s third effort, Relaxer is an expansive folk album—albeit a brief one. Clocking in at eight songs and 39 minutes (the band’s shortest album yet), it’s also alt-J’s most sonically diverse LP. But ambition is a tough gamble; Relaxer sees the band trying on several hats. And while some fit better than others—such as the upbeat “In Cold Blood” and meditative “Last Year”—the album ultimately comes off as a fragmented collection of songs rather than a cohesive body of work. “Hit Me Like That Snare” is a lo-fi mishmash of cowbell, samples and Doors-y swagger that leads nowhere. “Pleader” is a confusing mix of acoustic arpeggios and strings by the London Metropolitan Orchestra that climaxes in an underwhelming, hymn-like sing-along. The ambition is admirable, but alt-J loses itself in its cloudy weirdness.

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