The celebrated quartet – who won 2012’s Mercury Prize with their impressive debut LP – pared down to a trio earlier this year, but all the same suggest a harder edge in places here.
It’s first hinted at around the two-and-a-half minute mark, suggesting a rockier path, Intro building steadily while aurally painting another soundscape to savour.
Like many of the finer listening experiences, This is All Yours becomes all the more powerful around the third play, Joe, Gus and Thom perhaps redefining the band’s path.
Second track Arrival in Nara – the first of a trilogy name-checking the Japanese city, and perhaps indicative of a sense of creative freedom within this work – is a more likely starting point.
Its almost-wistful arrangement of simple piano and guitar proves vivid, the vocals only arriving a couple of minutes in.
The ensuing harmonies bring to mind an other-worldly Simon and Garfunkel, although arguably more Art than Paul.
That leads us to Nara itself, and it’s as if Fleet Foxes were tackling the band’s heroes, Radiohead.
And pretty soon it’s like someone’s turned the power on, the piano suddenly having to work harder, Gus battling away amid those swirling melodies.
That sonic capture of the senses continues with the more bluesy Every Other Freckle. Think 21st-century John Lee Hooker with telling dashes of Gomez and XTC-like invention as the backdrop, and you’re not far off.
The lyrics certainly throw off the band’s old geek label. There are Mumford & Sons touches too, but the neo-folk is always secondary to the down and dirty r’n’b.
That’s also the case on Left Hand Free, although whether this was just a jam that took hold or the trio’s new direction remains to be seen. Either way, I hear echoes of early-’70s Free.
There were a few hints of all that on the first LP of course, not least on Fitzpleasure, but they’ve moved it on a few notches here.
The pastoral Olde Englishe mood resurfaces on the Garden of England recorder interlude, and it strikes me that perhaps we’ve finally found an Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding for the new generation.
We’re back to the ethereal again on Choice Kingdom, floating above the clouds, those soaring harmonies again sensuously under-pinned.
For many of us, The Hunger of the Pines was a first indication of the band’s new material, and it remains as strong many more listens later, mesmerising and chock-full of imagery.
I’ve said it before, but I’m surprised this track hasn’t been commissioned for the latest Hunger Games film, seemingly a perfect vehicle for fictional ‘female rebel’ Katniss Everdeen, even before we hear that Miley Cyrus sample.
There’s a folk-pop quality to the Iris Murdoch-inspired Warm Foothills, the band going off at a tangent again yet somehow staying on track, with the duelling harmonies sublime and the song highly atmospheric.
It also brings to mind Noah and the Whale and a spirit of sunshine after the rain. In the old days, I might have nodded sagely and claimed ‘single’, but I’m not sure that means much to the alt-J download generation.
The Gospel of John Hurt is a further departure, again slowly building, heading from the monosyllabic to the polyphonic, the band truly ‘coming out of the woodwork’.
After that claustrophobic outbreak and release, there’s a chance to breathe again with the searing yet subtle Pusher, as we gather strength again for the album’s climax.
But again it’s unmistakably alt-J, and the deep bass rumble that duly arrives around 100 seconds in pushes us on to the finale, the overall feel reminiscent of Athlete’s Wires.
It’s as if there was unfinished business last time around. But this time they’ve duly nailed it, the album closing with an ‘as we were’ moment, Leaving Nara our celebratory reprise.
If ever a band didn’t need videos to promote their music, this is them. For alt-J already offer sonic visuals to the nth degree.
In short, This is All Yours is a near-perfect second offering that lives up to the inevitable hype, cleverly showcasing a pared-down outfit on a creative high.
And I’d go as far to say that pound for pound it’s even better than that first album.
For this site’s feature/interview with alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton, first published on August 14, head here.
This Is All Yours is available to pre-order in the UK, and will be released on September 22, 2014, via Infectious Music on CD, digital and double-vinyl editions, released in North America on the same date via Canvasback.
The band’s European eight-date tour starts at Glasgow Academy on Thursday, September 18, and is followed by a major North American tour in October and November. For more details head to their website here.