Track Reviews: alt-J - '3WW' and 'In Cold Blood'

Five years ago, four students from Leeds were just starting to break through the indie scene, having only released a handful of singles including tracks such as “Tessellate” and “Fitzpleasure”. A Mercury Prize, an Ivor Novello Award and various BRIT and Grammy nominations later,  Alt-J have become one of the biggest British indie bands around and perhaps one of the biggest indie bands full stop.

Having come out of almost nowhere, I can think of few other acts having made such a meteoric rise to fame and they are now back, ready for another big year of festivals, touring and most importantly, new material. Their third album, entitled ‘Relaxer’, is set for release on June the 2rd this year after the considerable success of their 2014 sophomore effort ‘This is All Yours’, which I personally have a very slight preference to over their breakout debut ‘An Awesome Wave’.

This of course means we were recently teased with cryptic messages on the band’s social media networks and eventually gifted two new tracks: “3WW” and “In Cold Blood”. With their current discography, Alt-J have certainly managed to carve out a unique and highly creative sound, combining various styles of folk, rock, electronic and even some slight hip-hop influences. Generally, these new tracks follow the same patterns we’ve become accustomed to from Thom, Gus and Joe. “3WW” is more of a slow-burner with that mystical, very atmospheric feel that several tracks on ‘This is All Yours’ had. Just like those tracks, it’s a very nicely composed song with gently picked guitar, elegant piano towards the end and of course Thom’s instantly recognizable vocal cadences. Ellie Rowsell from Wolf Alice also has a well-integrated feature and adds a bit more diversity to the vocals. Overall then, this first single is further proof of the band’s clear ability to create simple but nonetheless very pretty melodies. It’s not the most gripping quieter track they’ve ever produced but will be a decent opener on the album to set the tone and get you back into that Alt-J vibe.

“In Cold Blood” on the other hand is much more direct and more energetic. I could definitely see this becoming one of the bigger hits on the album, with its much more accessible sound similar to “Left Hand Free” on the band’s previous release.  This new track probably won’t feel quite as out of place however on an album as “Left Hand Free” did, as Alt-J have successfully managed to find a middle ground between what is clearly identifiable as their sound, and a slightly more ordinary indie rock vibe. It may have prominent but fairly standard guitar and drums but as on most of their work, the instrumentation is actually rather varied with some bold horns, nice synth arpeggios and what sounds like some organ as the track opens. All in all, this is another strong single. It’s much catchier than “3WW” but remains very well put together and well executed by the band.

With these new tracks then, there’s no reason not to be excited about this new Alt-J album. So far, ‘Relaxer’ seems to be on a similar level to the band’s previous albums but they will certainly have a couple surprises up their sleeves; and I would expect we’ll hear perhaps one more track between now and June. Watch this space then for what will be one of the most important indie releases of the year.

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