The four members of Leeds, England band Δ (pronounced Alt-J for the method of typing it on a Mac keyboard) are masters of sound creation. Their 2012 debut release, An Awesome Wave, features intricate instrumentation ranging from delicate strings and falsetto musings to full blown, rolling drums and bellowing harmonies. Many sounds on the album seem like they could be recordings or samples from other sources. I was fascinated last night to find that these sounds are often created organically, right there on stage. In the song “Fitzpleasure,” what sounds on the album like a clicking double bass riff was actually the bassist/guitarist Gwil Sainsbury playing castanets. In “Taro,” what sounds like a bagpipe melody was recreated live by Sainsbury banging on his effects-laden strings with a roll of tape. Moments like these expanded the album’s preexisting ability to grab the listener’s attention, and showcased the band’s mastery of their craft.
The album has been gaining fans rapidly, and from the looks of the crowd last night, many of them are still in high school. Young girls sat on the floor, discussing the band and braiding each other’s hair, one asking in anticipation, “What if we touch them?” The crowd had its fair share of older fans as well, closing their eyes and swaying to the melodies. The vibe swung back and forth from quiet and reflective to heavy and brooding, and the crowd was in rapt attention.
The band’s second single, “Breezeblocks,” was clearly the audience’s favorite. A flurry of iPhones went up and the crowd’s singing got noticeably louder. The song reaches its peak when vocalist/guitarist Joe Newman and keyboardist/backup vocalist Gus Unger-Hamilton harmonize the chant, “Please don’t go, I love you so” over drummer Thom Green‘s steady beats. The chant was full-bodied and the crowd threw themselves into it. Another highlight was the band’s new cover of “A Real Hero” by College, a song from the soundtrack to Drive. Alt-J took the light, airy original and created a harmonic, well-rounded cover.
Openers Hundred Waters from Gainesville, Florida were excited to be in Seattle for the first time after a three day van trip from Kansas City. Their experimental rock with its delicate vocals, textural keyboards, and intricate drums was a spectacular primer for Alt-J’s set. Singer Nicole Miglis played flute and sang lilting vocals reminiscent of Bjork, Shenandoah Davis, and Meredith Figurine‘s vocals on DNTEL’s “Suddenly is Sooner Than You Think.” The band wandered off into tangents, occasionally resembling Animal Collective in their time signatures. The drummer pounded on his high hat double time, adding complex, progressive beats to the wall-of-sound aesthetic.
The Greek letter Delta (Δ) which Alt-J is named for represents change in mathematical notation. With the overwhelming success of their first album, it’s hard to imagine how they will proceed. If Alt-J continues to grow and evolve, they will undoubtedly hone a sound that is unique, textured, and unprecedented, joining the ranks of music legends.
Slow Dre (Kylie Monogue and Dr. Dre Mashup)
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A Real Hero by College (Cover)