Five Things to Know About Alt-J

Photo: Jory Cody

Quirky quartet Alt-J have been turning heads with their intricately designed deconstructionist rock in the UK for the past few months, and now the Leeds-based group is starting to garner some attention across the pond thanks to some nods from high-profile admirers (see below) and placement in TV shows (e.g. their song “Fitzpleasure” appeared in a recent episode of Weeds). The group will see the release of its debut album, An Awesome Wave, stateside next week, so in anticipation, here are a few facts that shed a little light on just what the heck “Alt-J” is.

1. Their name isn’t actually Alt-J, it’s

Following some deep-seeded Prince-like instinct, the group named itself the uppercase Latin symbol delta (created by typing holding down the “alt” and “J” keys on a keyboard while using a Mac … get it?). In the band’s bio, guitarist-bassist Gwil Sainsbury says, “in mathematical equations it’s used to show change.” The band members occasionally use it like a heart to sign off on Facebook posts (e.g., “∆ Thom”) and their fans sometimes make the triangle with their hands at their concerts.

2. My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James remixed “Fitzpleasure”

Earlier this year, James told Spin, “I saw them play in Germany at one of the festivals we played. When I saw them, it kind of gave me this good, foreboding feeling. It was like seeing one of the great bands very young.” They enamored him so much that he offered to put his own mark on the densely textured song, which features “tra-la-la” harmony vocals and Newman’s nasal intonations. James’s take ups the tempo, adds a little percussion and a few glitchy ticks here and there.

3. Their video for “Tessellate” pays homage to the Raphael who isn’t a turtle

Directed by Alex Southern, the clip resets Renaissance painter Raphael’s 1510 masterpiece The School of Athens in an urban époque — or as the official video’s description asserts, a “ganster’s paradise.” (Respect to Coolio.) The song, though, is a far cry from hip-hop booty shaking and instead, is textured with pianos, woozy sounding reversed organs and guitarist-vocalist Joe Newman’s proclamation that “triangles are my favorite shape.”

4. The band members are all fans of Where the Wild Things Are

The lyrics to one of the group’s recent singles, the bouncy, clattering “Breezeblocks,” riffs on a line from author Maurice Sendak’s children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, as Newman sings, “Please don’t go, we’ll eat you whole, we love you so!” “That [the Wild Things] would threaten cannibalism to have that person,” Newman told Interview, “it’s a powerful image.” The video is equally sinister, though there’s no fantasy aspect. The Ellis Bahl-directed clip depicts a brutal altercation between a man and a woman, but since it’s artfully filmed in reverse, it has a nightmarish quality that, as Newman has said, needs to be watched again to get the full impact.

5. They’re also fans of the movie Léon: The Professional

One of the group’s first releases was a song called “Matilda,” which they recorded in 2008 or 2009. In the 1994 Luc Besson movie, “Mathilda” is a 12-year-old, played by Natalie Portman in her first role, who seeks shelter in the arms of a hitman named Léon, played by Jean Reno. Alt-J’s song takes a line from the movie. (Spoiler alert) Léon says the line, “This is from Mathilda,” as he gives a corrupt DEA detective a grip of grenade pins. “The song is about that moment in the film,” Newman told the blog Rhyme and Reason , “and it talks about Jean Reno’s relationship with Matilda, and Leon’s relationship with her.”

Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave comes out September 18 on Canvasback.

 

 

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