Wed 2 Feb 2022

Alt J’s “The Kick” is grounded in their iconic sound


It is fair to have high hopes for the co-creators of the immersive sound show experience. After taking a year off to recharge and reassess, Alt J began work on their upcoming album The Kick in early 2020. Their previous releases saw them nominated for Grammy and Mercury Prize awards and, with open hearts and a serious want to separate from the COVID narrative plaguing every news site and social media, The Kick is grounded in their iconic style, with songs written about everything from Coca-Cola to serial killers.

Opening with what can only be described as a bizarre mix of experimental production and ambient nihilism, the album’s first tracks walk a weird line bordering major, bright highs, and dissonant, creepy lows. The first track – ‘Bane’ – starts with a slightly uncomfortable lo-fi sample (a theme heard throughout the album) from an old soda advert, and build dynamically with layers of instruments, and even a choir, only to drop back into a quiet, intimate verse section with heavily produced vocals and guitar.

This chaotic progression is how Alt J approach song-writing across the whole of The Kick, as their structural mish-mash ebbs and flows with production techniques such as vocal filters, complete dynamic drops, synthesisers and choral sections.

Having toured the country several times, Alt J’s strong connection with the USA can be felt deeply within the album’s song-writing. From scenes of cross-desert camping trips to car adverts, the band paint a cinematic swath across the mind’s eye with acoustic guitars and percussive elements, to full-on epic expanses of sound. It goes without saying that The Kick’s sonic fidelity is immense and stellar.

Their unique indie-rock sound bears fruit in ‘Happier When You’re Gone’ and ‘The Actor’, as their playful, upbeat sound contrasts with the downbeat lyrical topics. Blues guitar harks back to the American theme, but also features a hint of industrial Britishness that is hard to pin down.

Despite their dialogue about wanting to avoid exploring topics such as lockdown, their optimistic pessimism leaves questions about how much this may have had a sub-conscious impact on their writing, as vocalists Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton criticise other relevant trends, such as crypto-currency. Their scepticism manifests in songs ‘Hard Drive Gold’ and ‘Philadelphia’ and emphasises their desire to burst out of music-jail and into the great outdoors of music performance.

In a culmination of everything they value dearly, ‘The Dream’ is an especially personal insight into the lives of a British indie-rock team who ‘made it’ and want to continue making it. Not only is it jam-packed with signature motifs but, with all hands on deck, family members featured on various songs, as an already intimate record takes long-time fans that step further. The Dream might be the most sonically and emotionally diverse Alt J record to date, and has plenty for listeners to delve into.

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