An Album of my Year: Alt-J – ‘Relaxer’


Now, I freely admit I’m not the world’s most tech-savvy guy in the world.

Sure, I can get under the bonnet of my website every now and then a rejig some of the HTML coding (how very early noughties of me!), but as for persuading my DVD player to tune into Netflix (which the spec says it can do) or working out how to get my brilliant (in my head, at least) app-based board game up and running, forget it.

This may, or may not explain why I can’t confirm with any certainty what my most listened to song or album of 2017 was. Once upon a time iTunes would have listed my music by order of “most listened to”. I’m not sure Android phones have that kind of capacity.

Or it may just be me.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s just say the 2017 album I most listened to in 2017 was Alt-J’s Relaxer. That would sound about right.

While with most albums (even newly bought ones) I will only listen to them a couple of times in succession before wandering off to something else, Alt J’s album became something of a permanent fixture in my ears for much of the year.

Dust gathered around it. When I finally removed it, a pristinely clean Alt-J shape was left on the surface of my brain.

The general rule of thumb to which records often work is a band’s first album will be their most exciting; their first opportunity to get into the studio and establish themselves on a blank canvas gives a debut album an energy that is almost impossible to find on a follow up, hence that “difficult second album” tag.

Relaxer, though, is absolutely wonderful – for my money better than either of its two predecessors – and that’s saying a fair bit given how much of a treat An Awesome Wave was.

And it fits all of its wonderfulness into just eight songs. But those eight songs contain so much: folk covers (‘Adeline’ and ‘House of the Rising Sun’) which are so much more than covers; references to Welsh literature (‘Pleader’); experimentations with a rawer, almost garage based sound (‘Hit Me Like that Snare’) and, right at the other end of the spectrum, a rich, heavenly sound of choral music (‘Pleader’ again).

There is, to be blunt about this, far too much in this album than should rightly appear within the space of just 39 minutes. But that’s what happens.

It’s a real old-fashioned, headphones on and do nothing else kind of a record. Doing the dishes, reading a book or cutting your toenails to it would be, quite frankly, disrespectful.

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