Ever since Alt-J laid claim to their Mercury Prize for their debut An Awesome Wave in 2012, the percussive indie-experimentalists have been on a globe-trotting journey of a monumental masterclass.
While An Awesome Wave showed youthful prosperity and unique divinity in a world empty of breeze-blocks and synth sand-pipes, it seems that 10 years later – and a pandemic on the way – no love has ultimately been lost as their fourth album drives the point home with experimentation but lacks any sense of depth and clarity in an album caked with sombre folk-inflections.
Thankfully, the likes of U&ME and Hard Drive Gold resemble tasteful songwriting from the trio almost as if both moments were drawn straight from the B-side of their sophomore. Perhaps a more sobering thought is that they may never pique past their debut. Maybe they don’t want to or even think for a fleeting moment about it all, but The Dream does have moments of quality.
The play-through throughout is tranquil with lyricist Joe Newman’s angelic voice rising to the forefront of the emphatic sounds of Alt-J. Despite the lyrics resembling something of a minor past time for Newman (You were the baker, I’ll christen this new era/With the smell of freshly baked bread/Your Nutella, I’ll keep it in the cellar/You were always a fan of that spread), the drive for experimentation keeps the album chugging along soundly The Actor and Chicago telling opposing sides to an often topsy-turvy tale of a traditional alt-J soundscape.
While it’s invigorating to see such a compelling and thought-provoking collective of musicians to keep doing what they do best, the album lacks neither a sense of depth or impressive songwriting moments to play off the path of experimentation or an album filled with bangers. But it’s still nice to listen and lean in to the wise, wise world of alt-J.