Binary Code has usually stayed within the realms of computer science and the world of technology. But modern society has slowly blurred the line between the right and left hemisphere of the brain, blending together spacial and analytical skills to form a new eclectic method of thinking. The British band Alt-J, has used binary code to tease their first demo “3WW” represented by the code 00110011 01110111 01110111.
Alt-J has resurfaced from the depths of a creative hiatus to give birth to their new album, Relaxer, which was released on June 2. To call Alt-J alternative would be lumping the group together with the likes of Bastille and Of Monsters and Men, who simply do not match the same experimental style of Alt-J. In each of their previous albums, An Awesome Wave and This is All Yours, non traditional instruments and technology were demoed to make a wave of sound that had never been seen before in the music industry. In the band’s music, inspiration from Japanese string instruments helps create a ukiyo-e (ethereal floating world) ambiance that is both relaxing, but at times pierced by strident minor chords that create spurts of passionate discomfort from the artists.
Relaxer changes the Alt-J that listeners have become accustomed to. While the lead singer, Joe Newman, still brings his soft curdled voice to the record, the majority of the tracks are marked by a more harsh feeling. The floating dream world Alt-J created has been struck by an external, or even internal, force of destruction and chaos. Some discordant tracks are broken through with notes of clarity, emanating from the placid tone comes from Gus Unger-Hamilton (the lead keyboard player). Unger-Hamilton’s pipes have previously only been utilized for backing, but now this deep clarinet-sounding voice is brought to the foreground, gracing tracks like “3WW.”
The more upbeat and attacking songs on the album include “Hit me Like that Snare,” which of course, includes a snare paired with Alt-J’s favorite percussion instrument: the high hat. The two come together to create a strong beat that is layered below Newman’s morphed vocals, as he changes his voice to a more haunting, Halloween-esque tone, like that of the B-52’s. It fits perfectly into a creepy and provocative environment, like that of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Along with tracks that pang the listener’s ear drums and excite their neurons, Alt-J’s mastery of ballads is demonstrated again with songs like “Last Year” and a cover of “House of the Rising Sun.” Each of the slow tracks rush over the lisner like soft waves, while an image of rolling green hills, probably in Scotland, appears in the mind. In “Last Year”, the placating melody is accompanied by a lone bassoon, the instrument’s pitch, similar to that of an English Horn, light but full at the same time. These slower songs from Alt-J are enjoyable, as Newman stretches out the lyrics so the listener can grasp at what he’s saying, which is usually hidden behind his idiosyncratic vocal style. Only when checking the lyrics online, can the listener find out the true meaning of the songs. In the past, Alt-J has confronted issues such as gang-rape and domestic abuse in their cleverly-written lyrics, which are poetic and jam-packed with allusions and metaphors galore. When read aloud, they sound more like a sermon, preached to an unaware and naive audience, spirits waiting to be awoken by the depth of Alt-J. Upon understanding the lyrics of the tracks, the listener can unearth a layer of Alt-J unbeknownst to the average listener, who will only get the feeling from their songs. The surface only hints at the discomfort, the unease of the subject matter.
While Relaxer has for the most part stayed true to the traditional Alt-J, it does not mean the album is anywhere close to typical. Alt-J always brings surprises to the table. They are like an amoeba, a small microbe constantly changing, morphing itself into the next big thing. For those who peer through the microscope of listening to detect the different elements of the band, the whole music listening experience is changed. May Alt-J live on, prosper, convert more people to a deeper sense of musicality, and continue to create musical experiences that rock a person to their core.