Biggest Breakthrough 2012: Alt J(∆)

Posted by: on Nov 27, 2012 | No Comments


Alt J’s amazing debut won the prestigious Mercury prize earlier this year, but how much do you know about the boys behind this year’s most talked about album and where did these graduates find inspiration for such moving lyrics and haunting tunes?

The British quartet formed in 2007-   became a band when Gwil Sainsbury (guitarist/bassist), Joe Newman (guitar/vocals), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards) and Thom Green (drums) met at Leeds University. They recorded the album in Brixton, and release an EP in 2011. Fast forward to 2012 and they reigned over tons of music festivals and release their long awaited studio album.

13 track Album, ‘An Awesome Wave’ is not  only a masterful mash up of pop and indie-alternative sounds but it surpasses any other albums that have been born out of 2012’s musical sphere- its experimental, powerful yet understated. There is a slight vocal similarity to that of Bombay Bicycle Club’s frontman, Jack Steadman, with occasional glimmers of Radiohead and a brooding tension that is akin to The XX. Furthermore, there is definitely a stark comparison to the earlier works of Hot Chip. No wonder these guys are tipped to be big…

If you haven’t heard of Alt-J then you may have seen a curious triangle symbol on the cover of magazines, on an album cover and gestured by your coolest musically obssessed friend….(∆) The boys were originally meant to be called Delta- and they say the symbol represents that. Although singer Joe told NME, “When I sing that line in Tessellate, ‘Triangles are my favourite shape’, it’s erm…it’s the spiritual Sanskrit symbol for Vagina”. That clears up the lyrical undertones of Tessellate then…

The delta sign (∆) is created when you hold down the alt key on your computer keyboard and punch ‘J’ on a Mac computer. The symbol has a deeper meaning for the band, as guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury notes, “in mathematical equations it’s used to show change,” and the band’s relatively new name came at a turning point in their lives. They were formerly known as The Films.

Joe continues his theory on the triangle reference by explaining that song, Tessellate, definitely does broach the subject of sexuality. It is he explains ‘the nerdiest sexual metaphor’ to come out of the indie-pop scene. Obviously he mentions triangles representing vagina’s but then Joe’s voice, almost whispers in the chorus, “Until morning comes, Let’s tessellate”…”I told my ex it was about spooning, but now I think it is about sex- I don’t know, I started going out with someone new and the song is about getting over my ex whilst going out and exploring things with my [new] girlfriend”. In which case, the triangle lyrics could reference a love triangle between 3 lovers. Either way, the song is ridiculously sensuous considering Joe describes it as it as a nerdy metaphor we think he’s broached the situation rather eloquently…

The theme of love, loss and finding someone new is evident although many of their lyrics are cleverly cryptic. Track, Something Good, references wanting to erase memories of a lover who hurt him, but who he can’t let go of. The mending of a broken heart by finding fun distractions and ultimately a new girlfriend: “Something good, oh something good tonight will make me forget about you for now.”

The album takes a more melodically upbeat shift with tune, Breezeblocks. Although the thematic presence of relationships is still evident here too.  The track is thought to be a reference to an unbalanced relationship- loving someone so much and not wanting to let them go even though its not working, “Never kisses all you ever send are full stops”. I love this song’s reference to children’s book and film, Where The Wild Things Are. “Do you know where the wild things go?” as well as the lines “Please don’t go, I’ll eat you whole, I love you so” being very similar to the lines “Please don’t go, I’ll eat you up, I love you so” in the book.” Wanting to literally consume someone, to have them completely. The song is a nod to obsessive love perhaps displaying the darker sides of Alt-J’s musical offerings.

Dissolve Me has an eerie tranquility with flecks of the Sitar used in the chorus. Another beautiful metaphor about lovers spooning, Both still pine for the other’s side spine‘, this song is made for night time and has a heady feeling that points to narcotic inspiration.

Joe’s voice is the constant in an otherwise changeable and melodically varied album. Intimate, confessional and understated this album is sure to withstand the test of time. With its constant references to love they are undoubtedly the indie scenes go to band for make out sessions. Yet, whilst the album is ambient, and superbly sensual background music it can also hold its on when the volume is cranked up, taking centre stage in all its glory.


Listen to the full album on Soundcloud and let us know what you think..