Alt-J | Relaxer

5/10 Fault-J
Like a postgraduate study group who have somehow bumbled onto a festival stage by mistake, it seems Oxford’s nicest trio of art school musicians are still trying to work out exactly how they’ve ended up becoming ‘pop’ stars.
Three albums in and their success remains inexplicable – they don’t remotely adhere to any kind of genre, and trying to categorize their sound is nigh on impossible. Pop? Rock? Electro? Gregorian chant? Folk? Trip-hop? Grime? Indie? Celtic? Try all of the above and then some, but that still doesn’t quite nail it. As with their first two LPs, Relaxer is a labyrinthine art-pop riddle that never sits still in its wanderings to the outer limits of wherever, flinging the listener through the subconscious minds of its three creators. Groovy, man.
There’s just one hitch; that subconscious terrain feels a little… flat, this time around. If the title’s anything to go by, then mission accomplished. We have been relaxed. Apart from the sinister shuffle of “Deadcrush” and the rowdy racket of “In Cold Blood” (OK and maybe über campy “Hit Me Like That Snare”), most of the tracks here mooch along like a stoned student wandering around the local newsagent’s in search of crisps. Their reworking of “House of the Rising Sun” sucks all the despair out of the original and turns it into a damp squib – apparently they used a 30-piece string section on the cut but you’d be too busy yawning to notice. Meanwhile, “Last Year” introduces us to the joys of taking diazepam in a cafeteria, and “Pleader” sounds like a bunch of Morris Dancers falling over some electric guitars.
All is not lost though, “Deadcrush” really is killer, and the ominous opener “3WW” ain’t far behind, but the feeling you’re left with is overwhelmingly short changed. The eight tracks don’t even add up to 40 minutes, and most of that time is occupied with a series of quiet shuffles and clicks in between ambient acoustic guitar plucking. That Mercury prize is disappearing into the rearview mirror quicker than you can say ‘the new Radiohead’.
Dan Ashcroft
Like this? Try these:

The Flaming Lips
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Ahead-of-its-time psychedelia from spaced-out Oklahomans.

Woodkid
The Golden Age
Alter ego of French neo-folky creative type Yoann Lemoine.

Radiohead
The King of Limbs
Oxford art rockers come over all electro-folky.

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