Alt-J: The Dream – Asserting a batty sonic vision on the mainstream

Mainstream gatecrashers deliver clever but sometimes plodding fourth album

The Dream
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Artist: Alt-J
Label: Infectious

In early 2020, Alt-J settled into a new studio in north London by filling a room with tour posters, awards and memorabilia. They dubbed it the Alt-J museum, a cosy place to shape and reinvent their future by taking some comfort from the past.

The Leeds outfit, now a trio, made their mark with a strange blend of experimental math rock that didn't automatically sound like the sort of stuff to bag a No 1 album, an Ivor Novello award, the Mercury Music Prize and millions of sales in the streaming era, but they undershot everything with an accessible pop sensibility and grasp of atmospherics.

The lead single from their fourth album, U&ME, basks in the glow of fondly remembered festival adventures, a tribute to how friends, lovers, bands, scenes and generations bond over a few days in a self-contained musical universe.

The Dream splices personal love songs with crime stories about Hollywood and the Chateau Marmont soundtracked by a clever distillation of their sound. The opening track, Bane, starts with an almost operatic refrain of “I sold my soul”, only to shift direction and change gears like an updated Bohemian Rhapsody.


Get Better is one of the intimate and tender moments, while Chicago is one of the best, a propulsive alt-pop banger featuring a riff that is a killer in its simplicity. Sometimes The Dream plods rather than provokes admiration, such as on the testing 6½ minutes of Walk a Mile. However, Alt-J continue to assert their slightly batty sonic vision in the mainstream.