English trio alt-J have already lived the quote-unquote Dream, according to almost every measure of rock band standards: A critically-acclaimed and healthily-awarded debut, crossover hits and mainstream collabs, and steadily sold-out shows and headlining slots at pantheon venues like Madison Square Garden (come spring). But only now, on the group’s fourth album The Dream (out February 11th), does it feel like the true ambitions of the three former art-school students from Leeds are finally coming to fruition.
Of course, the experimental rock band — composed of lead vocalist and guitarist Joe Newman, keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton, and drummer Thom Sonny Green — has never seemed confined by anything other than the limits of their imagination. Whether it’s their incorporation of diverse world music styles or the constant stream of clever-enough meta lyrics, non-sequiturs, and elbow-nudging pop-culture references, alt-J has always made expansive records.
That same inextricable hodgepodge of alt-J trademarks is baked into The Dream, but the band seems more determined and capable than ever to make sense of it.
The album’s thematic scope runs the gamut of love, death, happiness, betrayal, buried memories, not to mention vicarious celebrity encounters in their typical esoteric language, but even in a fantasy world of their own making, the band has never sounded closer to reality.
The sequence begins with “Bane,” a jarring ode to sugary drinks that settles into its groove about as smoothly as someone with a severe caffeine craving cracking open one last can before bed. The song’s fits and starts should come as no shock from a band that opened both their debut An Awesome Wave and 2014’s This is all Yours with an intro followed immediately by an interlude, but the real surprise is how quickly the band gets going this time. Around three minutes in, as if he received the designated cue to induce lucidity, Newman hits a whimsical guitar sweep and the full vision comes into view.