After a four-year hiatus, alt-J are back with their most captivating studio album, The Dream. What I loved when listening to this record is that the storytelling makes it easy for the listener to come to their own conclusions. That’s exactly what I did when I listened to The Dream.
While listening to the album, I felt like I was following a story line of the “American Dream,” showing the good and nice sides of it while not ignoring the ugly side people tend to forget about. At surface level in this vision, everything is light and airy with the first three tracks “Bane,” “U&ME,” and “Hard Drive Gold.” Sitting by the poolside, drinking some fizzy cola while enjoying the distant guitar riffs and chanting is what I envision when listening to “Bane.” A summer anthem calling for the listener to dive into The Dream. The infectious “U&ME” keeps those calm vibes going with their laid-back guitar riffs and a summer holiday-sounding tune. “Hard Drive Gold” is a bouncy and fun track that dives into the popularity of cryptocurrencies. The standout line of this song for me was, “Don’t be afraid to make money, boy.” Crypto swept the country in early 2021. You’ve probably heard of the ever-popular Doge Coin, many people made a pretty penny when it peaked. That line directly reminds me of that moment in time.
This happiness in this “American Dream Journey” is short-lived after the first three songs, immediately going into the dark themes of the storyline. “Happier When You’re Gone” is played with a beautiful and calming arrangement of strings, but tells a story of a tragic breakup, giving a nod to Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” but with the roles reversed. “The Actor” tells the tale of a wannabe actor making income by selling cocaine over a soothing, hypnotic beat. Now, I love sad songs such as these — I tend to connect with them very easily; however, “Get Better” broke me with each listen. The track is the most moving and heart-wrenching acoustic song on the record with its tribute to the people who lost someone during this pandemic. Life is incredibly fragile and this pandemic has showed us that more than anything in our lifetimes in a wider lens.
“Chicago,” “Philadelphia,” and “Walk A Mile” feel like some of the most unique songs on the album. The way “Chicago” dives into its haunting vocals with the menacing guitar riffs, I feel like I’m zipping through the city itself. “Philadelphia,” with its quiet opera singer in the background is quite stunning. I feel like I’m dancing through the streets of Philadelphia. “Walk A Mile” is the longest track of the effort, showcasing its Americana blues influences through its soulful instrumentation.
I love the introspection the last two songs give me as the listener. “Losing My Mind” explores the mind of a serial killer. The repetition of, “I’m losing my mind,” really cemented that in for me. Vocalist Joe Newman ties in his personal trauma with the song, which I did not pick up on at first until multiple listens. I find that very thought provoking and it honestly helped me understand and love the track more. The final track, “Powders” expresses the feelings of young love with some magnetizing guitar riffs, gentle drums and peaceful piano towards the end. It’s quite the poetic conclusion to a thought-provoking album.
The more I listened to The Dream, the more I fall in love with it. Give the album a listen when it comes out on Friday February 11, 2022 and I’m sure you will feel the same. It will release via Atlantic Records / Infectious Music