To Move, To Breathe, To Fly, To Float: A Listen to The Dream by alt-J



Indefinable, indirect, it was never going to be run of the mill. Conforming-shy trio alt-J pushed through the pandemic as only they could to record their fourth fascinating studio album- unveiled February 11th via Infectious Music and BMG- The Dream: a Delphic dive inside of oneself to draw back the covers on hopes, dreams and fears, spun through yarns of murder, matters of the heart, heck even the age-old subject of Cola is present, all composed under their golden hybrid of Beach Boy electronic, theatric Folk.


There is no definite rhyme or reason for this mingled voyage. Absorb exactly one minute of pure vocals in Delta, just because. You ought to go with it, sail on it, to the southern Americana blues and Arcade Fire zeal of Walk a Mile and the Italiano opera in track Philadelphia with its string blazes and ability to front a high-end advertisement campaign.


Chigaco is a natural, acoustic ditty made to trick you as it churns into Zimmer Dunkirk, techno weirdness, only to end back in the tenderness of the melody. Icelandic industrial opener Bane tells of fizzy brown nectar. alt's sound tech opens his can of coke as we enter a mountainous chant: 'I sold my soul for a sip at school'. Then an unexpected departure to their kooky melodies of acclaim unfurl.


After debut An Awesome Wave, Grammy-nominated This Is All yours and their last LP in 2017, Relaxer, Mercury prize-winning threesome Joe Newman, Gus Unger-Hamilton and Thom Sonny Green sealed a natural conclusion to their past, susceptible, willing for change. Like kids in a sweet shop, new music blossomed with ease; there was plenty of choice from gathered material.


I felt that with Relaxer we had reached the end of something,” confesses Unger-Hamilton. “I think, with this album, you can tell that we feel rested and excited to be making music again.



The rare tone of Newman's voice has always served in their greatness. In an observational optimistic slither of the record, U&ME, the intentional jazz mumbles of the verse harmoniously ignite into a coming-of-age chorus of freedom placed at a summer festival: 'It’s just you and me now. I could hold onto the memory of that day for the rest of my life.' And by the crackle of the fire, the chill, hippy twinkle of Powders gushes of youthful love, closing with spoken word to dense drums.


But that, one notes, is where any lovely dovely stuff ends. The three are not ones for handing meaning with instructions on a plate, as Newman illustrates,


For me, the best thing about writing is focusing on each sentence as a vignette and then sewing them all together, so they form some sort of coherence, but you’re not entirely sure what you’re listening to,” He continues, “And the fact that it’s ambiguous leads you to want to listen to it more.


Distortion removed from voice for break up ballad and beaut Happier When Your Gone, where tidal strings, organ chords and Fleet Fox church choral parts add to its end of the road sorrow: "It’s not easy, homelessness at home." Get Better also visits the painful topic of loss through the passing of a life partner. It hurts the heart and stings the eyes listening to this narrative of remembrance and hope.


When Joe first played it to me, I didn’t just get a bit tearful; I broke down. A big, big cry. A cry of the year,” Unger-Hamilton discloses.



But the disposition of the collection changes in a New York minute; it is not always sombre, far from it. Samples litter the tracks with the trio's family and friends recorded established by Unger-Hamilton’s mum calling out scum in the rhythmic surf waves of Hard Drive Gold: a humorous piece; the childhood fantasy of instant wealth. His wife delivers backing on The Actor: a luscious Django soar, reverberating, synthy, unusual: the hallmarks of the band as the story of a poor addictive hopeful is told: "He’s never gonna make it in LA."


For me, lyrically and thematically, there’s more talk about true crime in this album than the pandemic,” states Newman. “If we’re going to talk about themes and concepts, there are more songs about people being murdered. It’s like fantasy and escaping, and that’s what we’ve always done in our albums – it’s always about falling in love, losing love, and losing loved ones. It’s what I’m drawn to, lyrically.


If you do not know what to think of it, good; there is no need to make sense of it, or at least no hurry. Newman's interest in podcasts feeds into the logic of a serial killer for Losing My Mind, growing in suspense and fluctuating in volume and temperament with the big question: 'Is it easy to remember what it takes to be a man?' It may take a few listens to get your head around, but it is worth it; The Dream is a feather in one's cap. Go, listen, fly.


Article by Beverley Knight