Only one year on from their last album, RELAXER, alt-J have returned with a whole new host of music – but it’s far from their intricate brand of indie rock we’ve grown to expect. Instead, remix album REDUXER is a foray into the realms of hip-hop: an unlikely collaboration between alt-J and the rappers of today.
The band have long been influenced by hip-hop, and producing something like REDUXER has been a dream of theirs for some time. REDUXER is a star-studded 11 track compilation, reinterpreting each and every song from RELAXER.
It kicks off with the OTG version of ‘3WW’, which sees alt-J’s original vocals reduced to an echoey background, as the hard-hitting verses of Little Simz take the forefront. The combination of OTG’s crawling, slow-beat hip-hop, Little Simz’s prophetic rap and the original’s future-folk sound makes for a foreboding entrance into alt-J’s new musical chapter.
Twin Shadow’s version of ‘In Cold Blood’ ft. Pusha T takes up the next spot, and possesses a hip-hop bounce which is somewhat surprising on first listen, but really does work quite well. Just as you think you’re getting used to hip-hop alt-J, though, the album takes a completely different turn with Tuka’s take on ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Melancholic verses are interspersed with synthetic electronic phases, ODESZA-like in style, making for a soft breather before the confusion of the next track.
‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ is a song I already found slightly uncomfortable, difficult to place in the context of alt-J’s wider sound, and Jimi Charles Moody’s version doesn’t go far in making it any more listenable. Moody brings his Hendrixian rock sound to it, but rather than re-creating the song in a new light, this only serves to make it even more messy: it doesn’t really lead anywhere.
Just as I was beginning to lose faith in the album, I came into the golden trio of songs in the middle: the renditions of ‘Deadcrush’, ‘Adeline’ and ‘Last Year’. These really are the gems of REDUXER.
‘Deadcrush’ was already one of my favourites from RELAXER, and the Alchemist x Trooko version is just brilliant. Again, it seems to emanate an ominous tone, and the soft sounds of alt-J meet Danny Brown’s abrasive vocals in an unexpectedly well-matched marriage: a yin and yang combination the world never knew it needed.
Next comes the ADP version of ‘Adeline’ ft. Paigey Cakey and Hex, and I can honestly say I would never have expected trap to work so well with alt-J. Joe’s guitar intertwines with a trap beat, backgrounding Paigey Cakey’s rap and the chimes of choir-like vocal samples: exquisite.
This is followed up by the Terrace Martin version of ‘Last Year’ ft. Goldlink. This one’s a laid-back track, with the original Marika Hackman samples running throughout, alongside the new additions of Goldlink’s rap and Terrace Martin’s extensive sax sections. Another superb piece of music.
After this trinity of brilliance, REDUXER doesn’t necessarily go downhill, but definitely becomes odder. Trooko’s version of ‘Pleader’ ft. PJ Sin Suela simply has too much going on: it’s overly eerie, and is a somewhat manic edition of the original. Next, French artist Lomepal dramatizes the calm, brooding ‘3WW’, followed by Kontra K’s German rendition of the RELAXER fan-favourite ‘In Cold Blood’. Although neither of these are ground-breaking, Lomepal’s and Kontra K’s contributions will no doubt open up alt-J’s music to a whole new landscape of fans across Europe.
Rejjie Snow’s take on ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ makes for a relaxed but confident final song: the conclusion to alt-J’s dabble in hip-hop. Snow masterfully reinvents this song, not overpowering it with his vocals, but leaving plenty of breathing space to recline into this laid-back hip-hop affair.
REDUXER is an album very few people would have predicted alt-J to release, and for that alone it’s something special – a mark of unprecedented innovation in their musical career. Although it doesn’t perhaps completely fit as a whole, the stand-out songs are truly brilliant, and have completely taken me by surprise: and it’s always great to see so many artists from all over the world come together like this. One of the most exciting things about this new album is that it doesn’t flow so seamlessly as previous alt-J albums.
The band have come a long way since their Leeds uni days, but you can catch them back in their original city on the REDUXER tour, at Leeds Town Hall on Tuesday 23 October.
Image credit: NME