In preparation for the release of their LP Relaxer in June, Leeds outfit alt-J share the second song from what will be their third studio album, following their mercury prize winning record An Awesome Wave (2012) and the Grammy Award-nominated This Is All Yours.
Earlier in March, the band released their first new piece of music in three years, the intricate and brooding “3WW”. This track, minimally textured, featured beautifully rich, meditative bass, giving it an almost shamanic feel in its early stages.
March 29 saw alt-J release the second song that will feature on Relaxer, entitled “In Cold Blood“. Featuring a muted, staccato guitar intro, and littered with heavy drum parts and blasts of horn, “In Cold Blood” moves towards a slightly rockier terrain than “3WW”.
In keeping with past Alt-J songs, front man Joe Newman’s lyrics remain virtually indecipherable. His vocal style remains unlike any singer that springs to mind past or present. “In Cold Blood” begins with what is seemingly some sort of binary code: “01110011 / Crying zeros and I’m nearing 111“, with Newman’s vocal tone fusing beautifully with the arrangement.
The track’s more comprehensible lines seem to touch on tropes arguably more in line with conventional pop than the instrumentation itself: “Hair the way the sun really wants it to be / Whiskey soda, please, your G&T is empty“, particularly in comparison to previous Alt-J tracks – the superb “Taro” and it’s intricate treatment of photographer Robert Capa’s death springing to mind.
Running in at just over three minutes, a lot is crammed into “In Cold Blood”. Perhaps uncharacteristically, a rather abrupt key change occurs as if from nowhere – which may not be to everybody’s tastes – and to which the group confess “no-one is quite sure where [it] came from“.
In another move away from previous tracks, a prominent brass arrangement gives the track a fanfare-ish quality in certain points, serving to intensify the sound as a whole.
Introducing the track on Instagram, the band shares that the brass section was recorded at the infamous Abbey Road, while the keyboard parts produced on a Casiotone costing the princely sum of £1.05
It is also revealed that “In Cold Blood” has been a long time in the making; a work that began in the band’s student days at Leeds University only to be completed in 2016 in London, presumably once the Abbey Road string parts had been added to the mix.
From the first two tracks shared of Relaxer, one can only deduce that Alt-J’s third album will be varied and complex. Newman’s unique vocal style remains one of the main attractions to the group’s sound. In both “3WW” and “In Cold Blood”, there are elements which are quintessentially and delightfully Alt-J, but both tracks contain parts which will prevent the group being accused of stasis.
Following the release of Relaxer on the 2nd of June, Alt-J head out on tour across Europe and America in support of what could well be one of the albums of the summer.
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Words by Dan Carabine