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alt-J’s ‘The Dream’ album review

5 mins read

alt-J have released their fourth album The Dream. The trio made up of Joe Newman (vocals/guitar), Gus Unger-Hamilton (vocals/keyboards/bass) and Thom Sonny Green (drums/percussion) are back after taking 2019 out to reflect and recharge.

The Dream had been in the works since January 2020, finishing in June 2021.

Opening track Bane is simplistic as it is literally a song about a soft drink, showing the versatility in the band’s writing. Their sound technician can be heard enjoying a Coca-Cola at the beginning, one of the many intimate features on the record.

The soft harmonies throughout remain until the light vocals enter. The flute melody at the end comes from the song 3WW which appeared on the last album Relaxer.

U&ME is the first track that the band worked on. It was created from soundcheck jams recorded on a previous tour.

The layers of percussion and a feature from a school choir symbolises the end of an era but nevertheless, it is a summer jam.

Image credit: Ian Cheek Press

Newman describes third track Hard Drive Gold as a Left Hand Free track. The neat bassline and organ solo are both what make this track.

The choir features again along with Unger-Hamilton’s mother who is the voice that says “Scum!”

Happier When You’re Gone is a break up song of escape and a response to Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe in the perspective of the woman. The soft guitar riff supports the vocals which makes this an enjoyable track.

One sells drugs to support their Hollywood dreams in ‘80s ballad track The Actor. Unger-Hamilton’s wife provides the backing on this with Newman’s parents also featuring, again showing that intimacy the band created on this record.

Get Better is about the slow death of a lifelong partner, it is beautiful but extremely sad. Newman and an acoustic guitar meet Unger-Hamilton with his vocal harmonies and mournful piano chords.

This track is really stripped back to emphasise the lyrics. Although it is not Covid-19 related, it does feature the only lyric off the record that salutes to the underpaid frontline workers.

Image credit: Ian Cheek Press

The thunder rumbling at the beginning of Chicago before the vocals kick in creates a really intense but fun build-up, until the beat drops, accompanying the vocals.

From the deep bass to the harpsichord line, Philadelphia has it all. Opera occasionally enters from singer Christine Valeriano which was different and unexpected yet rather effective.

In line with the album title, Walk a Mile is the most dreamiest with raw vocals supported by soft drum and guitar.

Delta is the shortest on the record, a vocal harmony interlude that is very hymn-like.

Losing My Mind demonstrates an exploration into the thinking of a serial killer. After each listen, so much space is created and the idea of murder is no longer there. It can be about anything.

The band’s studio engineer sings a line in German on this one showing the connection created in tracks. This is a very deep and rough tune.

Image credit: Ian Cheek Press

Powders is about the rush of young love at a party. Sonny Green and his partner wrote the script included in this track which is a nice touch, further adding to the nostalgia this song aims to create.

As the end track, it is upbeat but still calming, a great way to end off the record with nothing being drastically changed, the same tone is kept throughout which can be key to drawing an album together.

The Dream is available now on all music-streaming services.

Featured Image Credit: Ian Cheek Press

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