Alt-J: The Dream ★★★

By Jessica Pretorius

Like many, my knowledge of the Alt-J doesn’t go much further than 2012’s Breezeblocks. But, when I saw the band had just released a new album, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. In fact, The Dream is a delicate and dynamic collection of tracks that ebbs and flows from upbeat melodies to darker, pensive tunes. 

Alt-J, consisting of singer Joe Newman, synth player Gus Unger-Hamilton, and drummer Thom Sonny Green met at Leeds University in 2007. Their first album, An Awesome Wave (2012), won the Mercury Prize, amongst others, and was hugely popular in the US. The Dream is their fourth album and is a further development of their unique sound. Released on the 11th of February, it’s a collection of layered harmonies and sporadic percussion that creates a very nostalgic feel. The album is cohesive yet varied enough to not feel boring as the tracks oscillate between light and dark moods. 

Once you get through the initial chanting, the first song, Bane, is hauntingly beautiful and reminds me of the distinctive melodies that came through in their first album. A favourite of mine is the delicate Chicago, mostly for the way the song builds in a daunting and dramatic fashion. The most popular song on the album is U&ME, and I can entirely see why. The song is positive while still managing to bring in some pensive melodies, and, overwhelmingly, it’s easy to listen to. 

Another standout is Get Better, a melancholy tribute to losing a partner that was inspired by the experience of many during the pandemic: “When out of the ICU / You’ll cringe at all the ‘I Love You’s”. Although lyrically touching, it is the simple guitar in this song that makes it so beautiful. The Dream touches on more dark subjects, with Losing My Mind taking inspiration from an experience Newman had as a child, when a friend of his sister was murdered. Similarly, Happier When You’re Gone tells the story of a wife murdering her abusive partner

Yet, despite these bleaker themes, Newman’s voice leads us through the songs with remarkable lightness and sensitivity. The Dream does not feel like an album that weighs you down; it’s an eclectic collection that remains interesting throughout. 

My name is Jessica and I’m in my second year studying International Relations with Spanish. In my spare time you’ll find me reading my book, reading the news, going to galleries or going to gigs. If you have any thoughts/ questions/ suggestions about my piece please get in touch via email ( j.pretorius@lse.ac.uk) or instagram (@jessprett)! 

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