Last June, the Leeds based indie rock band alt-J released their 3rd studio album, RELAXER. And it wasn’t good. Don’t get me wrong, I love alt-J just as much as the next guy; ‘Left Hand Free’ will forever get my feet tapping and my air drums rocking. But RELAXER was like looking in a fun-house mirror of the band I loved so much. The whole thing just felt off, the slow calm songs droned on, Joe Newman’s vocals only fit into a few of the songs well and aside from ‘In Cold Blood’ and ‘Deadcrush’ I never felt engaged – more like bored.
So I had basically given up on alt-J, and in fact was half pleased when they didn’t win the Mercury Prize – it would have been undeserved. Then last week REDUXER was released. And I adore it. Who would’ve thought an album made up of hip-hop remixes of tracks from RELAXER would be possible, let alone great.
The moment Little Simz started rapping over 3WW it changed from a watery mess of a song to something dark, sinister and just generally fucking awesome. Little Simz’s flow is low, laid back and drives through the song – the kind of thing you’d listen to late at night feeling like a bad boi. I was already pumped and it was just the first song. The rest of the album delivers many more rap features from fantastic artists and producers like Pusha T, Goldlink and Danny Brown to name a few.
The songs I liked from RELAXER have only been improved upon, but it’s the previously wishy-washy tracks that really stand as testament to alt-J’s ability to regroup and rework. ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ is one of the tracks that is remixed not once but twice on this album, chaotic and dissonant with Jimi Charles’s passionate vocals in the first but smooth and funky with Rejjie Snow’s laid back rapping in the second. Each are much better than Joe’s vocals in the original. ‘Adeline’ was originally a standard safe alt-J song but here it’s been morphed into a chill trap banger with an alt-J twist (good name for a cocktail?). If that doesn’t entice you I don’t know what will.
Though each song is flipped on its head, the album stays true to its title in that you can always recognize the original. The choruses are usually kept, while the verses are given to a feature. Filling the verse space with a rap feature eliminates the watery and directionless feeling the tracks had in the original. All the while a sweet brew of solid beats and airy instrumentals mix in the background giving the album a unique feel.
The album still has its problems. I still hate ‘House of the Rising Sun’, but it can’t be easy to turn something that bad into something good. Also, the album lacks any real direction or message. But how much can you expect from these artists when they’re separately remixing tracks of an album they didn’t create. REDUXER isn’t really a proper album or a serious project, it’s more just a bit of fun (done well).
When the album was dropped, Joe Newman posted on Facebook talking about how excited they were to be working with global hip-hop artists who have influenced them so much, and their passion shines through. I would love to see more music like this from alt-J, and while I’m not expecting them to switch entirely to hip-hop, I’d hope that as the band progresses, we see more of the originality they’ve shown us on REDUXER. I’m truly impressed by this miracle transformation.
So while we wait semi-tentatively for whatever alt-J have planned next, at least we can sit back and enjoy this delicious concoction they’ve served us.