Photo: Mads Perch / Courtesy of Atlantic Records

alt-J’s ‘REDUXER’ Reinterprets ‘RELAXER’

REDUXER is alt-J's fourth full-length release, a collection of reinterpretations of the songs from their successful third album RELAXER.

Canvasback / Atlantic
28 September 2018

REDUXER is alt-J’s fourth full-length release, a collection of reinterpretations of the songs from their successful third album RELAXER. The dominant sound of the record is, somewhat surprisingly, hip-hop but to limit it at that would do it a disservice. Similarly calling it a remix album would also be selling it short – this is not a remix album in the modern sense, neither a dancefloor cash in nor Spotify-baiting acoustic rehash.

Instead, REDUXER stands alone as a strong record, cohesive enough to be listened to independently of the original tracks and in deferential enough to serve as a companion piece. This release has been teased and previewed for some time, ever since Pusha T and Twin Shadow joined the band for a surprise performance of “In Cold Blood” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in July. Since then four singles have been released, using the biggest tracks from RELAXER and the biggest features to build anticipation.

The Leeds band have often stated the influence hip-hop has had on their work and the album they have created is a testament to this. What at face value could be interpreted as a cynical attempt to maximize the commercial value of their latest release by following the zeitgeist is, in reality, a carefully and cleverly curated collection that draws from some of the finest mainstream and underground talent from across hip-hop and the world.

RELAXER was, of course, diverse in its sounds and styles, another step in their continued evolution from Mercury Award-winning, indie darlings to art rock purveyors. Their third album expanded the sonic palette further, most noticeably with the introduction of orchestral sections as well as continuing to use literary references in their lyrical compositions. In that context the REDUXER album begins to make sense, the logical extension of this experimentation, using their connections to bring out the some of the subtlest influences in their work more fully.

As a result, the riff on “3WW” is given a new lease on life with OTG’s production, which wouldn’t feel out of place on a Lamplighter record. The prominence of the guitar line is elevated to become the centerpiece of a dark, gritty slice of urban dystopia. By contrast, the Lomepal remix is a lighter interpretation, making use of the later, pop-leaning sections of the original track, to provide two versions of the same song drawing on its disparate elements.

“In Cold Blood” was the closest link on RELAXER to their emergent, traditional indie sound and on this record, it is given two reworkings. Twin Shadow’s remix carries the biggest feature on the album in Pusha T, with the warped binary coding providing a fantastic hook amidst skittering drums and synths. The second interpretation translates the track into a big beat, mid-2000s inspired hip-hop track courtesy of Germany’s Kontra K. In both cases, there is a strong sonic link back to the source, the tracks full bodied drums and horn-led production values naturally lending itself to a hip-hop twist.

The same cannot be said for all tracks on RELAXER, in particular, the closing three tracks. However, each is given a new life on REDUXER. The quietly building “Adeline” gets a makeover with snapping hi-hats and the Auto-tuned vocals of newcomers Paigey Cake and Hex, while “Last Year” feels even further detached from the source material, with its woozy and blunted production suiting collaborator GoldLink down to the ground. However its baroque tinged, orchestral led closer “Pleader” which sees arguably the greatest overhaul, with Puerto Rico’s PJ Sin Suela helping create a disconcerting smorgasbord of sounds and styles.

Not all of this experimentation works perfectly, as you might well expect, but the biggest disappointment has to be “House of the Rising Sun”. A standout of the last record, the reworking retains the ethereal simplicity of the original, but Tuka’s introspective rapping feels more like a SoundCloud rapper trying to use an indie cover to gather a following when compared with the authenticity and originality of some of the other tracks on the record. At its best REDUXER takes the finest elements of RELAXER, whether it is the hooks, guitar riffs or overall track composition and adds a new perspective. The bluesy “Hit Me Like That Snare” sees even more attitude with the addition of Jimi Charles Moody, bringing the lovelorn narrative even closer to the fore and the anxious undertones of “Deadcrush” enhanced as Alchemist makes the drums more prominent in the mix and the skittering vocals of the ever impressive Danny Brown bring the track new levels of intensity.

It feels unfair to judge REDUXER as an album proper, but it is a credit to the band and the producers and artists that they have worked with that it comes close to justifying that. There are highlights throughout, with almost all tracks retaining a sense of originality. It may also act as a preview of what to expect from the band in the future, although you would expect in a far less explicit manner. It will be equally intriguing to see if, and in what ways, these tracks will be integrated into their upcoming tour sets. However, even if this ultimately stands as a vanity project that plays a little role in their careers going forward, it proves there is more to the band that they may be given credit for. It may also act as a means to broaden their fanbase and, fans can hope, allow the band to draw on the ideas and influence of the acts they have worked with in the releases going forwards.

RATING 6 / 10