Arts, Music, Review

‘The Dream’ Tames Alternative Rock with alt-J’s Nostalgic Sound


British indie rock trio alt-J’s first album An Awesome Wave gripped the indie music community and won multiple awards after its release in 2012. The band’s breakout hit “Breezeblocks” reached the top of indie and alternative charts, proving that An Awesome Wave was a distinctive release. On that album, alt-J introduced the world to lead vocalist Joe Newman’s striking tenor, the sultry beats of drummer Thom Sonny Green, and the whimsical musings of Gus Unger-Hamilton on keyboard. 

Since that debut, alt-J’s music still pops up on indie Spotify playlists. The 2014 release This Is All Yours solidified the band’s place in the annals of certified-cool alternative rock. The group took a slightly less sultry approach to its style on what might be its best record yet: The Dream, released on Feb. 11

The album opens with “Bane,” a serious-toned track that is actually about a can of Coca-Cola. At first, listeners get an earful of unwarranted melodrama that’s interesting to listen to but not necessarily easy on the ears. The lyrics begin after nearly a minute.

“I sold my soul… / For a sip at school… / A swimming pool… / Ice cold black fuel…,” Newman sings.

The rest of the song reflects deeper themes of youth and religiosity but ultimately pokes fun at the gravity that some bands bring to their subjects. Sometimes a song is about the depths of the artist’s soul. Sometimes it’s about a can of Coca-Cola. 

The Dream is one of the most tender albums produced in recent years. Though the songs range from silly to brutally melancholic, each is crafted with a rare carefulness.

The standout track of The Dream is “Get Better,” a song about grief. Newman’s characteristically comforting voice somehow becomes even softer and more comforting as he sings to his romantic partner who died. 

“Meeting at the serpentine / The beginning of Spring, you wore those yellow ripped jeans / Your look defined my 2009,” Newman sings. 

The band’s sound exudes the style of the 2010s, and its lyrics express nostalgia. Listeners can fully see what Newman’s lover was wearing and remember exactly how they felt that same year.  
The Dream is a brilliant addition to alt-J’s catalog. Listening to it is a reprieve from the darkness of everyday life—a time machine back to when things were just a little bit simpler and people wore yellow ripped jeans.

Featured Image Courtesy of Canvasback/Infectious Music

February 20, 2022