Paléo Festival, Nyon
alt-J’s new album is called The Dream – a fitting title for a record of such intrigue, beauty and hidden darkness, recorded throughout the pandemic, but not necessarily a product of it. It’s a record about murder, love, Coca- Cola, twisted logic, revenge, crypto currencies, loss, hope and frequently whatever you yourself decide it’s about.
After winning the Mercury Prize in 2012 with their debut album An Awesome Wave, Joe Newman [vocals, guitar], Gus Unger-Hamilton [vocals, keyboards, bass] and Thom Sonny Green [drums, percussion] made the Grammy-nominated This Is All Yours (2014) and followed it with Relaxer (2017), an album that refused to retread old ground and took the band back to the Mercury’s shortlist the following year. Along the way they plotted giant, globe-trotting tours, sold out Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl and the O2, amongst many others, and headlined almost any festival you care to mention.
They sampled Miley Cyrus, collaborated with hip-hop alt. heroes Pusha T, Little Simz and Danny Brown on 2018 remix album Reduxer, and made history by co-creating the first immersive sound show of its kind at New York’s Forest Hill Stadium in the summer of 2018, where 360 degree speakers made the performance sound like it was optimised specifically for every single member of the audience, no matter where they stood in the venue.
As the shows eventually wound down, the London-based trio agreed that 2019 would be set aside as a year of reflection and recharge. “I felt like with Relaxer we had reached the end of something,” says Unger-Hamilton today. “I think with this album you can tell that we feel rested and excited to be making music again.”
The Dream, alt-J’s fourth album, began life on schedule, in January 2020, when the band first regrouped at their own studio – a rented house in East London, to work on early ideas. Navigating Covid as it arrived and hung around – with Green shielding throughout the pandemic and often working remotely – The Dream was recorded from August 2020 until June 2021 in this semi-treated space with long-time producer Charlie Andrew. What slowly emerged was a record of intrigue and ambiguity that fizzes with a rejuvenated sense of experimentalism.