Single Review: alt-J – Hunger of the Pine

By on Wednesday, 25th June 2014 at 12:00 pm

Several days ago, the 2012 Mercury Prize-winning alt-J unleashed the first single from their hotly anticipated sophomore album ‘This is All Yours’. Since winning the Mercury gong, the band has downgraded from a quartet to a trio: bassist Gwil Sainsbury announced in January he was leaving the group for personal reasons and from all signs, his departure was amicable. alt-J have since decided to soldier on as a three-piece and though they are one man down, the first taste of their follow-up shows no indication of any growing pains (losing pains?) caused by Sainsbury’s departure. Actually, ‘Hunger of the Pine’ might be their most accessible song to date.

As described by the band themselves in this piece by NPR’s Bob Boilen, the song’s intent is to recreate, sonically, the physical hurt and pain of missing someone (‘pining’) and the song has nothing to do with coniferous trees at all. Unfortunately, what’s been getting too much attention is the trio’s use of a Miley Cyrus sample from her song ‘4 X 4’. I think that’s truly unfortunate. Cyrus’ actual lyric of “I’m a female rebel” doesn’t add anything to the song’s meaning itself, and I actually think it’s jarring to the haiku-like exquisiteness of singer Joe Newman’s own words (“Sleeplessly embracing / Yawn yearns into me / Plenty more tears in the sea”) lost in an enticing sea of reined in electronic beats that encircle the listener.

As has been pointed out by several music fans, if no-one had pointed out the vocal sample was from Miss Cyrus, we’d probably never have known, and maybe the song would have been better for it if we’d been in the dark. As it is, the addition makes the song more of a novelty and detracts from the otherwise beautiful, otherworldly quality of ‘Hunger of the Pine’. Also of note, it appears Newman has either toned down or they’ve somehow managed to lessen the nasal sharpness of their frontman’s voice, which was the major stumbling block to me liking alt-J in the first place.

All in all, ‘Hunger of the Pine’ confirms the anticipation for ‘This is All Yours’ is well-deserved.


Listen to ‘Hunger of the Pine’, alt-J’s latest song, in this Video of the Moment feature. (The band have since pulled the stream of the single from their Soundcloud account.) ‘This is All Yours’, the group’s second album, will be out on the 22nd of September on Infectious Music.
Previous coverage of the band – when they were still a foursome – can be found here.

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