Provocative Alt-J Rides the Wave of Success With Debut Album, Tour

Tyler Huggins


Alt-J, or ∆, flex their musical talents, featuring college estudiantes posturing under a barrage of melodic guitar and bass, punctuating keyboard, a singer's croon and a drum-set diagnosed with multiple personalities per DSM-V (thanks partly to drummer Thom Green's refusal to play cymbals, replacing the cymbals with saucepans [this was done originally to conserve space in the jam sessions]).


While the musicianship stands on its own, there is a noticeable rift between the music and vocals, and they tend to collide for a provocative message. The message, when prurient, pulses inscrutable sexual dynamism (when Joe whispers the suggestive "let's tessellate" or the murderous thematics in "Something Good" and "Breezeblocks"), contrasting the 45 minutes of continuous foreplay (Gotan Project) or sexual tenderness (Frank Ocean).


The premise of ∆ is simple. Resist definition. A note penned by the band (or intimate of) noted that a decisive sound bite for ∆ has yet to surface. This drives music journalists loco. Said Music journalists pride themselves on their ability to collapse a band's sound into relatable genres, akin bands/artists or slap them with an adjectival morass. While many have tried to encapsulate the aesthetic of ∆, none  has succeeded, resulting in reviews that liken the group to "Nick Drake meet the Gangsta Rap"; Radiohead (the ultimate cop-out comparison); Fleet Foxes and Mystery Jets (BBC review) and Adam Sandler (New York Times).


As their diverse array of tags indicate, ∆ finds no solace in performing within standardized forms of orchestration. Their sound swings from sexual to severe, and everything in between. "Matilda," ∆'s earliest release, is a paean to the film, Leon: The Professional's climactic line: "This is from Mathilda." If Leon (simple on the surface, but a complex character when dissected) wrote a song to describe his affective relationship with Mathilda, this is it:


"Just like Johnny Flynn said, 'the breath I've taken and the one I must' to go on/

Put the grenade pin in your hand, so you understand who's boss/

My defeat sleeps top to toe with her success.


Oh this is from/

This is from/

This is from Matilda"

[View YouTube Video]




Lyrically, “Matilda” lacks depth. However, the configuration of the tune takes the subject matter to subterranean territory: the taboos between non-related child and adult relations. Within the context of the record, "Matilda" is the album's legend. It regresses into childhood (also present in "Breezeblocks" and "Dissolve Me") verboten liege (a constant thematic element that's most actively present in "Tesselate," a song about sinking back into nocturnal activity with an old flame) and the many faces of love.


While these themes will not ring novel, ∆ gives the content a sinister twist with their vocal and instrumentals. This provides the content a perversive tint, as if the lyricist tormented himself with the guilt of returning to an old flame; the underbelly of love is most evident in Breezeblocks lyrical refrain (stems from Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are):


Please don't go, please don't go, I love you so, I love you so/

Please break my heart/

Please don't go, I'll eat you whole.


[View YouTube Video]


An Awesome Wave debuts in the United States on Sept. 18 on Canvasback Music. Their U.S. tour begins in Sept. 12 at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City.


Author Bio:

Tyler Huggins is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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Courtesy of Canvasback Music
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