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Alt-J

Winners of the prestigious and lucrative British Mercury Prize in 2012 for “Best Album”, ALT-J – lower-case preferred to represent the mathematical equation “triangle” symbol on one’s Apple Mac – have taken the music world by storm since signing a deal with Infectious Records in 2011.
A unique schizoid blend of laptop-folk, ethereal trip-hop and organic indie (think FLEET FOXES harmonies and HOT CHIP beats), the four musicians met in 2007 while studying Fine Art/English Lit at Leeds University. Subsequently based in Cambridge, Messrs Joe Newman (vocals/guitar), Gwilym Sainsbury (guitar/bass), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards) and Thom Green (drums), the quirky quartet toyed with the names of Daljit Dhaliwal and Films, while they rehearsed very quietly so as not to disturb their fellow student halls residents.
The Laurel Collective’s Charlie Andrew was roped in as producer, and while a 4-track demo (recorded in Brixton) was circulating around the majors and independents, a trial 7”, featuring `Bloodflood’ and `Tessellate’, was issued by free mag Loud And Quiet. Infectious were on board on the group’s second and third platters, the double-A `Matilda’ and `Fitzpleasure’, plus `Breezeblocks’.
AN AWESOME WAVE {*8} was released May 2012, and almost immediately rave reviews from the NME, MusicOMH and Drowned In Sound, secured the record its entry into the Top 20. Although it must be said not every publication was enthused by their “draining, elongated MOR tunes” (as Pitchfork Media bluntly put it). Whether it be inverted snobbery or pretentiousness on every level, one can see both sides to the coin as ALT-J have a tendency to irritate and twist the knife into their own backs when the music seems to be plodding along quite nicely. The hushed squeaky murmurs of Newman certainly has a “marmite” effect, but one can see merit in their aforementioned singles, plus others such as `Something Good’ and `Dissolve Me’. Signed to Canvasback (through Atlantic) in the States, it’ll be interesting to find out their global appeal without a hit single. Hopefully, a sophomore set should dispel their vituperators.
The first month of 2014 kicked off with a bang when Sainsbury opted to leave. But at least he departed on an amicable arrangement and, more importantly, after the recording of ALT-J’s sophomore set; Cameron Knight would subsequently take on his live role. Described as like a meeting of SIGUR ROS, MOGWAI and ENO (if only!), THIS IS ALL YOURS (2014) {*7} captured the hearts and minds of the day’s youth. In sullen-to-sonic song, `Nara’ (and its pre-fixed accomplice, `Arrival In Nara’), the elastic-jawed Joe Newman was cold and calculated without… say… the icy traits of their more northern compadres. Top of the tree was reserved for the creaky, muted-blues-meets-Motown of `Left Hand Free’, while the enterprising mash-up of `Hunger Of The Pine’ (sampling MILEY CYRUS’s `4×4’) was truly inspirational. It was then hardly surprising that the British album chart-topper became Top 5 in the States. On a footnote to the set, Tom and Co tried their hand on addendum piece: a dub-beat cover of BILL WITHERS’ `Lovely Day’.
© MC Strong; May2013-Sep2014

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