Dizzy Swallows

Alt-J = ∆

Alt-J = ∆

October 1st, 2012

Last week we had the distinct pleasure of attending the first US concert of a young British group sporting the moderately heady name of Alt-J. Type that in on a Mac keyboard and you get the Greek letter delta, which looks like a triangle. Mathematically speaking, delta is used to denote change in an equation. This is decidedly apt, since Alt-J has very unique sound, characterized in different reviews as anything from indie pop, to folk-step, to experimental rock. But categorization often does injustice to music. As the Guardian puts it “Certainly there’s a pop immediacy, but it’s underpinned by complex scoring, well-crafted hooks and some slightly esoteric lyrical flourishes.”

From the moment they took the stage of a packed Moore Theater, it was clear that they were something special. I’d heard several tracks, including their single “Fitzpleasure” (see below), but the range of sound covered on their newly released album, An Awesome Wave, was a pleasant revelation. Alt-J plays the kind of music that breathes you through moments of spare harmony, then draws out an involuntary “mmmm” when the beat rolls in. Live, they have the kind of rumbling, chest throbbing bass that brings that same slow and devious sorry-dad-smile as riding in fast cars with questionable gentleman. Still, for me, the prevalent thought was that these four young men (resembling few things more than a handful of Harry Potter characters in Muggle dress) must have once sung in a boys choir together.

This was also one of those rare concerts (or perhaps not so rare) when the opener is far and away more enjoyable than the headliner. All I can say about their tour mates, Group Love is that I have never been subjected to a more over-produced bunch of unfortunates who seem to believe smoke effects, distortion, and screaming can make up for lack of talent. Really people, not all things should go to 11, nor is it appropriate to come onto a Seattle stage dressed-up in what (at best) looks like a bad Halloween costume of Kurt Cobain complete with plaid bathrobe and (what could only be) a blond chin-length wig. Needless to say, we (and most of the audience) left after giving them a fair chance with three painful songs. Ahem.

At any rate, enjoy Alt-J’s newly released album, An Awesome Wave, below. The album represents a 5 year effort from the group who met at Leed’s University. Taken as a whole, it has the kind of mature “big picture” sound expected from a group’s 3rd album, rather than something a bunch of unsigned students recorded at home.

Finally, here is the video for “Fitzpleasure” which seems to confirm my boys choir suspicion:

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