You may not immediately think hip-hop when you think of Alt-J, but in truth the influences have always been there. The band themselves have been open in their love of the genre, and the clever intricacy of beats and rhythms across their career have always leant themselves to the dance floor. Reduxer takes it one step further, a complete reimagining of last year’s Relaxer, the band working with a host of hip-hop stars and producers to produce something truly remarkable and surprising. No mere retread, this doesn’t involve the lazy adding of a club beat or just dragging tracks out to an interminable length. Instead, it is a wholly different beast.
The sheer starkness of the first version of ‘3WW’ (three songs have two separate versions) lays the template, Little Simz lending her distinctive London tones to transform the track into something sultry and moody. So completely does she own this track, you even forget that the original had its own guest singer until the ghostly apparition of Ellie Rowsell joins her at the finale. Through much of Reduxer, Alt-J act as mere hosts – providing the structure and environment for others to work in, many tracks almost unrecognisable at points (though always existing within the original framework). When their vocals do drop in, it only adds to the overall mood.
The shining example of this is ‘House of the Rising Sun’, in which Australian rapper Tuka manages to surpass anything on the original album. Almost meta in its construction, he raps about seeing his mother being beaten as a child, with the song a reminder of those days. Beautifully affecting, it also showcases a band not afraid to step back completely and allow others to take the reins.
Other songs are more equal in distribution, Pusha T only present for little more than a verse on ‘In Cold Blood’, now all built on a simple riff, vocoder and hypnotic beats. Mood is everything here, whether it is the funky r’n’b-meets-jazz inflections of ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’, or the gorgeous Gallic vibes of Lomepal’s version of ‘3WW’. There is an experimental air to GoldLink’s version of ‘Last Year’ with a saxophone swirling in like a disembodied presence, and jazzy minimalist beats to Rejjie Snow’s ‘Hit Me Like That Snare’ that wash over you. In every track, the very soul of each guest completely inhabits the original.
Flitting across the whole genre of hip-hop like a musical butterfly, it stands as both a vital mixtape of the here and now of the scene in 2018 as well as an Alt-J album. In that regard, it easily stands up as a completely separate and definitive piece of work and opens up a whole new world of fascinating and thrilling potentials. It’s an often-overused cliche, but where Alt-J go next is absolutely anybody’s guess, this could just be the beginning.