Everybody knows Dave Matthews Band, right? Well, everyone that reads music blogs, at least. Everybody also knows that everyone who knows Dave Matthews Band has an opinion on Dave Matthews Band. Maybe they’re too “jam band-y” for you. Or their songs don’t have enough meaning. Or it could be that they’re the best thing you’ve ever heard in your whole life. It all depends on the person, there’s no real general consensus about Dave Matthews Band that’s ever been reached. As an artist, they’re pretty much stuck in opinion limbo.
Now what if I likened Alt-J to a British, indie-pop version of Dave Matthews Band? At first, it probably wouldn’t make any sense. The latter usually never impresses critics, while the former won a Mercury Prize for their first record. There’s also a huge difference in artistic direction and vision between the two. However, before you say my comparison is invalid, think about this: Both have a core fan base of people who don’t usually enjoy the genres they’re a part of, both achieved success (relatively) right out of the gate, and both tend to rely on complex musical structures and layers of sound to get them by. In addition to all this, too, Alt-J seem to embody the whole “opinion limbo” thing. I could ask three of my music-savvy friends about them and get three completely different answers. It seems like they’re modern indie music’s perfect example of a split decision.
For me, though, there’s one last comparison that can be made between these two artists – I’ve never been able to connect with them emotionally. (At this point in the review, I’ll leave the whole Dave Matthews thing behind and start focusing on what I’m really supposed to be talking about). A great song is always three-dimensional, it has depth. You can always find meaning and substance within any section of it. I’ll admit that I was a fan of Alt-J’s first record, but as a band they’re never really been able to create deep music. I just liked the cool noises and textures and stuff, which is nice, but there has to be something behind it.
I know that some of you are probably arguing that I haven’t looked hard enough to find the value in their songs. If you’re one of these people, I’d like to offer a polite rebuttal: If you have to try to look for it, it’s not there. Take Animal Collective for example. They’ve written songs about things like driving to work and doing chores, which seem like topics that don’t necessarily warrant an entire song, but it somehow works. Why? The music just fits. There’s no telling exactly how, but the reason for AnCo’s success is exactly why Alt-J falls short for me: The extra special something that lets you really feel the theme of the song.
So what about This Is All Yours, their second album in two years? In a way, I’m disappointed, because I actually expected this band to progress. However, what we really got was more of the same. Perhaps it’s because they spent a much shorter time on this record than the last, but I personally think it’s because they focused on improving the wrong things. Sonically, Alt-J is one of the most interesting groups out there today. They can produce any noise to fit any situation you can imagine, and they do a darn good job of it. Despite this, as I ranted about previously in this review, there’s other, more important aspects to their music that need some work, and I expected them to try branching out a little bit to see if they can achieve that desired effect. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and the new record probably involved more messing around with computers than it did messing around with song structure and lyrical content. Coming from someone who once defended these guys, it’s a little frustrating.
Yeah, I could get more into the specifics of the album and what I didn’t like, but I’ve decided to just spare everyone the gory details and inevitable angriness that would ensue. Basically, all you need to know is that if you’re familiar with what Alt-J’s done in the past, you know what this record sounds like.
So, as you can imagine, I’m hopping off the Alt-J bandwagon, still shocked that I once thought that An Awesome Wave was sure to be their Pablo Honey. And as for the huge divide that separates lovers and haters of the band, I can imagine that This Is All Yours won’t exactly be egging the former on.