Posted: December 6, 2014 in Music
Tags: , , , ,


It isn’t often that this writer is moved to write about music.  I’m not much for reviewing things in general, and it’s difficult to write anything about the arts without adding a hard critique to the copy.  I’m writing this in the first person… something that most reviewers avoid, if only to distance themselves from the hate that pours out from a fan base when a critique is negative.  Even now, while I’m consumed by the topic I am shifting uncomfortably in my chair.  This will NOT be a review, but rather, an astonished listener’s admittance to being awed by Alt-J’s eclectic library of influences.  I find it amazing and comical that a band can remind me of “The Maccabees” and “Vampire Weekend” at the same time.  I don’t claim to be moved by the band’s message.  I don’t think they’re the greatest thing since ________.  Truthfully, I’m not even sure if I like most of their stuff.  I like most of what I believe has influenced them, however, and it is through comparisons to these other artists that I feel motivated to write about Alt-J.

The local alternative rock station here in southeastern Wisconsin has embraced Alt-J’s single “Left Hand Free,” much as the band had hoped.  “Left Hand Free” is the most mainstream sound on “This is all Yours,” the band’s second major release.  By the band’s own admission, “Left Hand Free” was written solely to be a single, and is “the least Alt-J song ever.”

I like this song a lot and so does my daughter.  Weirdly, my sixteen year old daughter and I share similar music interests, something that I cannot say about my relationship with my own father.  So, the way I see it, I’m either the coolest dad ever or my daughter is strange.  I prefer the former.  “Left Hand Free” caught my ear instantly, and after allowing it to bounce around in my brain for a while I told my daughter about how this song by Alt-J was my newest obsession.  Of course, she already owned the CD and was generous enough to give it up to me for a few days so that I could get more acquainted with the band.


alt j live


I had expected to hear songs that were comparable to the library of “Muse” or “Imagine Dragons.”  Just a few seconds into “Intro,” however, I thought I was listening to a “Glee” production similar to their cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”  Strange, for sure.  When the song morphed into some sort of abstract “Gregorian Chant” a few minutes in, I knew I was in for a ride.

By the fourth track I had been reminded of The Kingston Trio, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley, and early Pink Floyd — mainly the resonance of the “Atom Heart Mother” album.  The bells in the 3rd track “Nara” sang as if Trans Siberian Orchestra was ringing them.  By the eighth track I’d heard The Black Angels, The Killers, Dave Matthews, and Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Soft percussion and synthesized leads seem to be the norm for these guys, but changes in cadence and style leave the listener wondering what might be lurking around the corner.  Although I find none of their songs to be hard-driving or catchy – save for “Left Hand Free,” the melodies alone are engaging enough to draw one in.  The lyrics, abstract and murky, are almost goofy to the point of dismissal.  But don’t do it.  There’s deep meaning encoded within them.  “Nara,” for example, articulates the oppression of homosexuals in today’s society.  The singer pleads with his suitor to “Saut dans le vide (leap into the dark), my lover,” imploring him to jump into an unknown future with him. Later, there are references to Republican Party founder Alvan Bovey and the conservative state of Alabama… after which they call out the hosts of the 2014 games in Sochi, pleading with them to “Unpin your butterflies, Russia.”

I don’t find greatness in this album, but I find it in the band.  Their insistence on being complex and transcendent in the face of failure is admirable.  Their ability to write a song for the mainstream, releasing it as a single and having the foresight to calculate their actions for effect, proves they’re smarter than the average bears, putting a song in the ears of the public that can trap a Pooh Bear like honey.

Have a listen.  You might like ’em.  You might hate ’em.  You might think I’m nuts.



  1. Bruce Goodman says:

    Well, thanks for introducing me to my latest obsession!

  2. Just checked them out. Diggin’ it so far. Thank you for turning me on…to them! 😉

  3. Sounds like you have some interesting tastes in music. Will have to check this group out. Peace.

  4. curtisbausse says:

    Totally agree – a great band.

  5. GS says:

    This film’s soundtrack is by Alt-J,

  6. ssnovatamara says:

    The Red Flags.

    I saw them in Janesville where we lived when they played a local arts night called “Into the Stratosphere at JPAC”.

    I now have a copy of their CD that a local recording studio owner made especially for me after my husband did an interview with him and we got to talking about the kids in this band and how talented they are. We know these kids through some friends just to say hi to.

    They have an energy when playing live that made me an instant and huge fan. Amazing.

    But what’s most amazing is I don’t like this kind of music. I just like this band.

    Really. Incredible. Energy.

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