Alt-J Releases First Album in 5 Years with Life and Death Juxtapositions in The Dream


4.0 out of 5 stars

Alt-J has been a pretty big staple of alternative music for about a decade now, and if you don’t know who they are, you almost certainly have heard their big hits like “Beezleblocks” and “Left Hand Free.”

Their new album, The Dream, is a continuation of their previous work, but I will say this album has a much less “active” tone to it. Sort of like if you took Alt-J, slowed it down a bit more, and then took some tranquilizers to see what would happen.

So, what’s the end result?

Well, it appears to be an album that on the surface could easily be overlooked as it has a propensity to blend into itself, but then you dig into the lyrics and subject matter. That’s when you get a little more than you may have expected.

However, that said, I personally don’t find the lyrics all that deep or meaningful even though the explanations offered for the songs suggest otherwise, had I not dug into them, I wouldn’t get most of the references that are brought up, and even when I DO get the references, it makes me like the songs a bit less in many ways.

The lyrics seem a lot more superficial than the explanations seem to convey in many songs too. Just because someone says, “Here’s what my song is about,” if the lyrics don’t really give the impression of that, then it seems to be missing the point it is trying to make. 

And that’s probably my only big gripe about Alt-J in general. Sometimes, the lyrics are too simplistic or non-sensical to truly convey the exact meaning of what it is I believe they are trying to say. Now, others will SURELY disagree with me, but as I have been writing poetry and songs and studied that through college, I have a feeling I know a bit of what I am talking about.

Of course, this doesn’t ALWAYS apply to their songs, nor is Alt-J the only band that suffers from this lyrical fault. Most bands do in some way. However, I think the hype around how great the lyrics are by Alt-J is what made me bring that up.

The singles on the album “U&Me” and “Hard Drive Gold” definitely have a lot of poppy music that leads you to be able to easily listen to them and not really care what the lyrics are about, and in these two songs, there’s not much to really dig up. So, you get what you hear there.

Now, “Happier When You’re Gone” is simultaneously one of my favorite and least favorite songs on the album. It’s a great stand alone song, in my opinion. However, it is essentially a counter-song (for lack of a better word) to “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix. It might honestly be the worst premise for a song I have heard in a long time, but the song actually is still good. Just forget that I mentioned that concept, and you will likely be okay with it.

The Actor” is probably the best song OVERALL on the album. It has a clear concept, well written lyrics, and the music keeps you engaged throughout. Simply put, the song is about a struggling actor with a cocaine addiction. The song actually gives you an 80’s L.A. vibe as well. So, it has a bit of nostalgia thrown into the mix.

Get Better” is definitely the most meaningful song on the album. It is about a man (I assume) talking to his wife or partner about the death of the partner in different vignettes of memories/times that reflect on the time leading to the partner’s death and how the man will deal with it. 

The best lines of the album are on this album for sure:

“You were the baker
I’ll christen this new era with the smell of freshly baked bread
Your Nutella, I’ll keep it in the cellar”


“I still pretend you're only out of sight in another room
Smiling at your phone”

It is probably one of Alt-J’s best songs they have ever released. 

In my opinion, the next song “Chicago” is not really my cup of tea, and I think it is a wasted song, to be honest. It could easily have just not been on the album. Nothing about it is interesting to me. The 30 seconds of dead air in the middle is also a bit annoying.

Then if the album didn’t accomplish self-indulgence by now, “Philadelphia” really pours it on. This is literally an homage gone wrong in so many ways. It’s enough for a UK band to speak of someone being murdered in an alleyway in a U.S. city, but then to make it a Beatles-esque, rock opera, it just becomes a trainwreck, in my opinion. Someone should have stopped this before it got released.

The rest of the album pretty much stays on the theme of going over the top in an avant-garde way (if I can call it that). Look, some people are going to be blown away by the second half of this album. I just see it as music that needed to be released as a soundtrack or something, because on its own, it just comes out like “try-hard” songs that don’t connect with a listener in any way that makes sense.

I like Alt-J, but I also like music to be committed to a certain level of connectability and not just use cliches or topical events to carry the music, and while I may be the ONLY person who gets the feeling that this album misses on a lot of new territory that could have been made by the band.

Instead, they actually take ideas from other artists and grind them to a pulp in a way that makes the songs less interesting for the average listener.

I also don’t really see why half of the album is created one way, and the other half is totally flipped.

The Dream seems more like a lazy attempt at making long songs with little substance, unfortunately.

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