For Alt-J fans whose musical tastes don’t overlap into R&B and rap, Reduxer might be a tough listen. Reduxer is a reimagined and extended version of the trio’s 2017 release, Relaxer. The new album takes an experimental approach to Alt-J’s ability to create soundscapes. Rather than allowing the listener to sink into the nuanced swells and rhythms of the excellent Relaxer, the music forms the base layer for contributions from an international array of R&B, rap and hip-hop talent. Although a very different album, it’s impossible to listen to Reduxer and not compare it to the original album.
While Reduxer illustrates the versatility of Alt-J’s music, the new approach tends to dampen the musicality of the original tracks. Everything is compressed, louder and more immediate, leaving little room for the subtlety and production Alt-J is known for. From the opening lines of 3WW x Little Sims, Reduxer jumps out of the speakers, demanding the attention that Relaxer simply earned.
In House of the Rising Sun Tuka adds a narrative which, though emotive, is nowhere near as effective as the haunting take Alt-J achieved on their own. Delicacy is sacrificed for auto-tuned vocal style sounds and synth melodies which jar with the sparse beauty of the original. The excellent In Cold Blood has been updated and stripped for the most part of its staccato guitar lines and brass sections, replaced by layered vocoder tracks.
Adeline, possibly the most interesting of the reimagined tracks, is transformed with robotic, mechanical sounding rhythms and layered harmonies. Pleader is unrecognisable from the orchestral masterpiece on Relaxer. Reduxer’s high points are reserved to two of the final three tracks, which are alternate versions of the opening trio. Here Alt-J finds something of a middle ground between Relaxer and Reduxer’s other tracks.
3WW with French hip-hop artist Lomepal stays truer to the original and retains much of the subtlety and feeling lost in the abrasive album opener, while In Cold Blood with German Kontra K is a much more listenable track than the version featuring Twin Shadow and Pusha T. The use of non-English vocals allows some focus back to the music and melody rather than the words used (for those not fluent at least) and that, combined with less deviation from the original music, creates a much more interesting listen than the upheaval seen elsewhere on the album.
Reduxer is a brave album, and it’s admirable that Atl-J, comfortable in their own genre, chose to experiment with their sound in this way. For fans of R&B, rap and hip hop it will likely be enjoyed, and may even turn followers of its individual contributors on to Alt-J’s other output, but to these ears, the harsh immediacy of the vocals and production takes away from rather than adds to what Alt-J are great at and, of the two albums, the original is the one more likely to be returned to here.