There are tracks worth listening to on alt-J’s This is All Yours, but you’ve probably already heard them — they were released as singles throughout the summer. While their sound remains lush and layered, blending elements of classic rock and folk with hints of post-dubstep, the prog-rock group stretches their sense of exploration too far on the rest of the album. The Leeds band might feel like they have something to prove in the aftermath of their Mercury Prize-winning 2012 debut An Awesome Wave, but their sophomore effort is not much more than a meandering journey to nowhere.
This is All Yours is loosely centered on an excursion to Nara, Japan, a city known for its heavy population of Sika deer. The track titles — three of which include the city’s name — appear to be the band’s attempt to give the album a fanciful concept, but they fall short by failing to address any details about the location in their lyrics. The record starts off with “Intro,” four minutes of spoken words so distorted that they’re unintelligible — not a promising first impression. The singles “Every Other Freckle” and “Left Hand Free” come shortly after, leaving little to look forward to in the album’s second half. By the time it gets to the lengthy ballad “The Gospel of John Hurt,” which is dedicated to Alien, you’re so fatigued by the inclusion of four other long, wandering songs (the aforementioned intro, “Arrival in Nara,” “Choice Kingdoms” and “Warm Foothills”) that it’s hard to sit through another. But it drags on with an orchestral suite attempt; Joe Newman’s voice chiming in every so often with extended “ooohhhs” and “aaahhhhs,” or repeated refrains.
Overall, what the band lacks is focus. They include one-minute interludes with lots of bells simply because they sound pretty. (“Garden of England” and the bonus track “Lovely Day” should be eliminated entirely.) Miley Cyrus’s “4 x 4″ is sampled on “Hunger of the Pine,” but Cyrus’s words don’t make sense within the song’s context and ultimately it feels tacked on, like a half-finished suggestion.
Alt-J would benefit from leaning on their sense of playfulness; they shine as a group when they’re being a bit cheeky. “Every Other Freckle” is energetic and lively; the call of “Hey shady baby” during “Left Hand Free” risks being too cutesy, but it works because it’s fun and straightforward.
For every striking sentiment — like “Realization grew on me/ as quickly as it takes your hand/ to warm the cool side of the pillow,” in “Hunger of the Pine” — there is a cliché to match, like, “Love is the warmest color” in “Nara” and its reprisal “Leaving Nara.” This is All Yours has too many ideas but not nearly enough substance.