Critical Voices: alt-J, Reduxer

October 18, 2018

Alt-J is an indie-rock band that hails from Leeds, England, with an appetite for experimentation and a great capacity for individuality. Typically known for their ethereal vocals and eccentric beats, their new album Reduxer transcends and overturns the traditions of their typical sound. The album is a full reinterpretation of the band’s 2017 release Relaxer, a medley of traditional folk and garage band rock. Each track on Reduxer features a different artist from the worlds of rap and hip-hop, from familiar voices like the iconic Pusha T, to more obscure lyricists like German rapper Kontra K. While Reduxer does include a few tracks that are a bit too elaborate, the eclectic combination of mellow beats, hard hitting rap, and nostalgic synths speaks to the strength of the album as a whole.

Given Alt-J’s signature alternative style, this sudden dive into the realms of rap and hip-hop seems almost baseless. Up until this point in their careers, they have almost exclusively stuck to their alternative sound. (chilltherapytampa.com) The band tried to explain this shift in a recent Twitter post. “It’s no secret that we love and are influenced by hip-hop, and it’s always been a dream of ours to work with hip-hop artists in re-imagining our music. With Reduxer that dream has come true. We couldn’t be happier with the results. This album is truly global, featuring rappers and producers from all over the world. After a very long time in the making, we are stoked to share it with you all,” they wrote. In other words, the trio has been deliberating over and pursuing this project for a while. Though the blending of genres may feel a little unexpected, this is the manifestation of their long-term creative wishes.

Alt-J’s characteristic electric strings and ghostly vocals are present but reimagined on Reduxer. Relaxer’s familiar beats are manipulated to better accompany a rap-like cadence, and the main vocals are taken over by the featured artists. “3WW – OTG Version” is arguably the strongest track on the album, surpassing its chill-beat counterpart on Relaxer. The mellow and complex instrumentals unexpectedly complement Little Simz’s rapped lyrics. Surges in the synth perfectly melt Little Simz’s mellowed flow into lead singer Joe Newman’s ghostly lyrics, having an almost celestial effect. Alt-J’s shift in creative vision gave “3WW” a new breath of life, showcasing the power that lies in revisiting and reimagining.

On the other side of the spectrum is “In Cold Blood – Kontra K Version.” The track focuses heavily on layered vocals, which at many points becomes disorienting. Kontra K’s German lyrics have a very distinct audible aesthetic, which on its own is grabbing and unique. When paired with Joe Newman’s soft and soothing vocals, however, both sacrifice their distinctive qualities in favor of a confused mixture of voices. The song altogether feels as if it was thrown together without much regard for the distinct nuances of each artist’s voice.

Given the creative courage it took for Alt-J to seek out such a venture, one can hope that they will continue to push the boundaries and integrate different genres into their music. This new sound—though it will likely be contained to this album—is also refreshing and stimulating. It gives a unique platform to singers and producers, broadening both their audiences and their versatility as artists. It definitely deserves a listen. Whether you’re deep in the rap game or an avid fan of alternative artists, you’re bound to find a track that fits your style.

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