alt-J  – The Dream: 13th Floor Album Review


alt-J create a perfect dream world on fourth album The Dream. Strange associations and allusions. Multiple narrative perspectives and constantly shifting and morphing landscapes. As English as Alice in Wonderland but simultaneously wandering through the psyche of spiritually bankrupt California.

The characters that turn up in their songs evoke the uneasy dread of Bret Easton Ellis, from Less Than Zero to American Psycho. Their songs have featured on several movies and Netflix shows. American Horror Story would match the mood of this album.

The three dream weavers are Joe Newman guitar and lead vocals, Gus Unger-Hamilton keyboards and vocals and Thom Sonny Green drums. Not surprisingly, an Art School band. The name is meant to be Delta. As in the Greek letter and alt-J is how you get there on an Apple Mac.

Bane. Opening song has a similar intro to the Door’s The End, off their celebrated debut album. Beautiful melodies that constantly change in short spells. Along with dark elements and psychedelic subjects, they incorporate good amounts of sly humour. The can being opened at the start is the Devil’s drink, Coca-Cola. It will reappear in a different guise.

A children’s chorus sing My God/ Why hast thou forsaken me.

There is a spiritual reference point to this album and it is to Brian Wilson and the time when his artistic muse peaked in lockstep to his fragile mental state. Freaked out by the genius of Phil Spector and matching the Beatles in creativity. The Smile Sessions came out eventually, years after when he could finally let go of them. During that time the Beach Boys released Wild Honey, Friends, Sunflower and Surf’s Up.

Southern Californian decadence and redemption and this album lifts off from there.

Happier When You’re Gone has divine melodies and suburban mysticism lyrics. The chimes of love texting your phone/ Familiar as the clothes I own/ California, Pensacola, Go/ I’m happier when you’re gone. Voices blend in lush Pop tones and it ends curiously with the smell of burning cattle floating in the air.

Get Better is a superb folk song, accompanied mostly by a quiet acoustic guitar and soft melodies. Has the naïve sentiments of Jonathan Richman when he sang Hospital, and this song stretches it out further. When out of ICU/ You’ll cringe at all the “I love yous “. Hallelujah is rhymed with accapella.

The shifts in time and perspective are like a classic Dennis Potter TV series. From a hospital bed it is the memories that come alive again.

Philadelphia is Baroque-Pop, and the other influence gets name-checked. Pepped up with a bag so righteous he sings all of Rubber Soul. An operatic voice sings the title and in truth it sounds more like Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

The Actor. This is Mulholland Drive and the story of an actor seduced by the surface beauty but ending up dealing the other Coke, cocaine. Music veers into disturbed Psychedelic Pop and resurrects Easy Rider for the Millennials.

Walk A Mile.   Starts with a barbershop quartet and a skeletal Pop melody. Barely sketched in but it feels wide and expansive with little Jazz touches widening the sound canvas. Eventually steps into psychodrama with an electric guitar playing liquid molten mercury.

Delta is only one minute but it is majestic Gospel Pop.

Leads straight into Losing My Mind. I assume this is a fictional tale of a serial killer of fifteen young boys. Both a father and the killer end up in the same situation. I’m losing my mind. Redemption comes in a refrain of blended vocals. It is easy to remember/ What it takes to be a man/ You and I/ Cut from the same cloth.

They may be the same person. Occupies the same dream as the Smith’s Suffer Little Children, a requiem to the parents of the Moor’s murders and Myra Hindley.

Powders is heavenly Pop to end the album. Just the faintest hint of Lean on Me on the intro. Post-Brian Wilson teenage wonder and innocence. “Free house”/ Two greatest words to hear at sixteen/ I’m your man, I’m your man           

alt-J and The Dream. All songs are tapestry patches of ever-shifting melodic Pop. All draw you in and you are caught. One more time on Cypress Avenue. Nothing that you can do but sit back and wonder.

Rev Orange Peel      

Click here to watch The 13th Floor MusicTalk interview with alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton 






Marty Duda
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