After nearly a decade of releasing music, Alt-J remains in the enviable category of bands that can play it both ways: independent credibility, sounding as weird as they want, but still capable of filling huge theaters on both sides of the Atlantic. . The Leeds-formed trio did this without ever having what could be considered a real hit song, although their strongest moment, Left Hand Free, proved a regular purveyor of prickly atmosphere to cinema and the television. Mercury Prize winners for their 2012 debut album, An Awesome Wave, much of their material may have a Mercury quality in that it’s easy to admire but a little harder to fall in love with.
Over the past year, Glass Animals has demonstrated what can happen when you add a simple eye-catching twist to quirky indie electronics. This group’s song, Heat Waves, has slowly become a global hit, recently surpassing a billion Spotify streams. Alt-J sounds like maybe they’re hoping for something similar when Hard Drive Gold comes in with three songs. Its galloping bassline, Joe Newman’s wild scream, “Fire!”, a coasting organ solo, and the growing excitement of the key line: “Don’t be afraid to win, win money, boy,” seems perfectly primed to accompany a slew of TikTok videos displaying money. Yes, it’s about cryptocurrency.
At best, their fourth album lives up to its title. The songs can leave you in a surreal daze, unsure of what just happened. Did Newman really just sing about buying a “kimono tour” and saying “happiness is between two buns” on U&ME, The Other Sunniest Time? Where is this Philadelphia opera singer from? And who decided that Walk a Mile should start with a quartet of barbers?
At worst, however, it also lives up to its title. Much of his sluggish second half is forgotten almost instantly. Losing My Mind drifts without having any real impact. Walk a Mile is six and a half minutes long, but it feels like a lot longer.
Nevertheless, apart from the mourning ballad Get Better, The Dream is rarely straightforward. The actor has a synth line that sounds distant and cavernous, well-suited to his seedy backstory as a Hollywood cocaine smuggler. Newman’s singing style is less mannered and creepy than it once was, though he clearly enjoys smothering it in various effects on Bane. However, too often, the songs are impressively intelligent without really sticking.