The much-anticipated sophomore effort of Leed’s indie rock band alt-J returned with another heady, atmospheric album. This Is All Yours, which debuted Sept. 22 and quickly reached the top charts in the U.K., raises a lot of questions. Is alt-J truly the new Radiohead? Are they folk? Where is Bovay, Alabama? Are they electronic? What the hell is a red-billed quelea? And, most importantly, what are they even saying? And is it sexy, or is it just plan weird?
The album opens, predictably, with “Intro.” (Fun fact: the first title of their last album was also “Intro,” leading to some confusing Youtube searches). It invites you into the macabre and ambiguous world of these indie experimentalists, with dark chants and apparently explicit words. But it’s okay, because that’s not what you’re listening to it for.
Next, we are introduced to Nara with “Arrival in Nara.” It’s a turn from their first track, and is a lot softer and more gentle, with minimal guitar and keyboard. It’s one of the more refined tracks, with a subject of what seems to be a drowning girl.
“In my youth the greatest tide washed up my prize / you,” Joe Newman crones in “Nara.” Regardless of similar titles, and recurring themes, there’s a hint of homoerotic undertones. “He’s found me, my aslan,” plus the befuddling line “Love is a pharaoh and he’s boning me,” seems to add up to something. There also seems to be a Blue is The Warmest Colour reference.
One of the best songs on the album is the sexually-driven “Every Other Freckle.” This was a very confusing song for me. Are you supposed to be aroused by “I’m gonna bed into you like a cat beds into a beanbag” and “Turn you inside out and lick you like a crisp packet”? And yet, somehow… the song just reeks of steamy situations. I like to think that “Lou Lou, let the cover girls sing” is a “Walk on the Wild Side” reference. With cats, devouring, mouths, and freckles, this song is certainly a wild ride.
“Left Hand Free” was another single they released earlier this summer. Although this song is good for what it is, it sticks out on this album as “the least alt-J song ever,” branching into a rock similar to Portugal. The Man. Also, I couldn’t help but feel like this is about masturbation. It breaks up the flow of the album, and not in a great way.
The band follows up with “Garden of England – Interlude” and “Choice Kingdom,” two songs that seem to be odes to their homeland. The interlude is a strange choice; it introduces some floaty recorders and is oddly cheerful. “Choice Kingdom” returns to an understated, melancholy sound.
“Hunger of the Pine” returns to the tone that alt-J is known for. Keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton explained on NPR that “the lyrics mainly suggest the idea that missing someone – pining – can be a physical pain much like hunger.” But, typically, alt-J never sticks to one concept. They added a clip from a Miley Cyrus song, stating “I’m a female rebel.”
“Warm Foothills” enters a perkier world, alternating between a male and female voice. The song is still eerie, like most of alt-J’s tracks. I couldn’t decide if it was another love song, or if it was about making a leap in to an uncertain future. Maybe it’s about discovering things together. It’s a playful tune, with whistling and frolicsome lyrics such as “Blue dragonflies dart to and fro / I tie my life to your balloon and let it go.”
“The Gospel of John Hurt” relies on imagery from the 1979 Ridley Scott sci-fi movie, Alien. It returns to the ethereal and ambiguous greatness that exemplifies two songs from their first album, “Tesselate” and “Breezeblocks.” It’s one of the strongest tracks on This Is All Yours.
“Pusher” is an acoustic tune, a more folk- than electro-inspired. It’s about relationships, and how there’s always a giver and a taker. It also introduces the idea of the elusive quelea.
If you haven’t caught on yet, alt-J likes to have recurring themes and confusing lyrics. “Bloodflood, Pt. 2” and “Leaving Nara,” the last two tracks, combines both of these points, continuing a song from their first album, as well as continuing the themes of the red-billed quelea (apparently one of the most common birds in the world), Bovay, Alabama (which is not a real place), and Nara, Japan (which is).
To return to the important questions: Is alt-J truly the new Radiohead? I mean, they use computers, they’re from England, and they enjoy befuddling listeners. Draw your own conclusions. Their words are deliberately ambiguous. Are some of them sexy? Yes. Are some of them weird? That’s also a yes. Am I overanalyzing all of these lyrics? Yes. So maybe you should just listen to it and enjoy, because honestly, I think they’re just screwing with our heads.