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Music / alt-J

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Thom Sonny Green, Joe Newman, and Gus Unger-Hamilton.

Triangles are my favourite shape, three points where two lines meet.

alt-J (AKA: Δ) is an English art rock trio (formerly a quartet), formed in 2007 and known for their unique blend of everything from pop, rock, folk, trip-hop, industrial, funk, classical, and even dubstep, as well as their cinematic music videos. Their name and symbol come from the result of pressing the alt and J keys at the same time on a Mac OS X.

The band is made up of Joe Newman on vocals and lead guitar, Thom Sonny Green on drums and Gus Unger-Hamilton on keyboards and backing vocals. A fourth member, Gwilym Sainsbury, played guitar and bass until his amicable departure between their first and second albums.

The band rose to prominence when their debut album, An Awesome Wave, won the 2012 Mercury Prize.

Alt-J Discography:

  • An Awesome Wave (2012)
  • This is All Yours (2014)
  • Relaxer (2017)
  • The Dream (2022)

Alt-J provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Album Title Drop: "Bloodflood" features the line "A wave, an awesome wave / That rushes skin and widens in blooded veins".
  • Arc Number: 3 in "3WW". It's the opening track on alt-J's third album, a teaser was released on March 3rd (3/3) with the full song following 3 days later, and the album was originally set to be released three months and three days later. Three voices (Joe Newman, Gus Unger-Hamilton and Ellie Roswell of Wolf Alice) are heard singing throughout the track, and they tell the story of three characters. This theme also reflects the band's overall triangle motif.
  • Arc Symbol: Triangles. Their name is the capital Greek letter delta — which is in the shape of a triangle —, they often make triangle gestures during concerts and they even sing about them in "Tesselate" (see the page quote). This gained another layer after Gwilym Sainsbury left in 2014, making the band a trio.
  • Back to Front: The video for "Breezeblocks" starts with the end.
  • *Bleep*-dammit!: "Hit Me Like That Snare" bleeps the word "fisting" despite the song saying "fuck" six times.
  • Call-Back: The phrase "C-O-double-M-O-N" occurs in "Fitzpleasure" before showing up multiple times in "Bloodflood" (as well as "Bloodflood Part II" on the next album).note 
  • Chest Burster: "The Gospel Of John Hurt" is about the infamous dinner scene in Alien.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Hit Me Like That Snare" off of Relaxer features the most swearing of any track they've released, with 6 uses of "fuck", including the wonderful line "Fuck my life in half", and one censored use of the word "fisting".
  • Consuming Passion: Breezeblocks, which ends in a repetition of the lines "Please don’t go, I’ll eat you whole/I love you so, I love you so, I love you so..."
  • Cover Version:
    • "Lovely Day", a Hidden Track included at the end of This Is All Yours, is a Bill Withers cover.
    • Relaxer includes a cover of the blues standard "House Of The Rising Sun", though the melody, chorus and second verse are largely original.
  • Darker and Edgier: This is All Yours is lyrically much darker than An Awesome Wave ever was. Musically, most of it is Lighter and Softer, which leads to a fair amount of Lyrical Dissonance.
    • Relaxer finds a middle ground, with the music being somewhat darker than This Is All Yours, but not as dark lyrically. Much more profane, though.
  • Distaff Counterpart: The video for "Every Other Freckle" came out in either a boy or girl version.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: The video for "Breezeblocks," due to the Back to Front nature. For most of the video it's assumed that the man who kills the woman is the villain, given his incredible Slasher Smile when he chases the woman he kills. The end reveals that the woman had bound and gagged his wife and was trying to kill him.
  • Epic Rocking: To make up for its shorter tracklist, five of the eight songs on Relaxer are 5 minutes or longer in length.
    • From This Is All Yours, "The Gospel Of John Hurt" and "Bloodflood Pt. II" are both over 5 minutes long.
  • Four Is Death: Four is skipped in the Japanese countdown in "Hit Me Like That Snare".
  • Gratuitous Japanese: "Hit Me Like That Snare" has the numbers one through ten counted down in Japanese, with four skipped.
  • Hidden Track: Lovely Day on This Is All Yours.
  • Human Pincushion: The music video for "Hunger of the Pine" plays this trope brutally straight.
  • Idiosyncratic Cover Art:
    • The covers to the singles from This is All Yours are just close-ups of the cover art of This is All Yours.
    • The covers to Relaxer and its singles are all screenshots from LSD: Dream Emulator.
  • The "I Love You" Stigma: Inverted in "3WW". The titular "three worn words" — "I love you" — are worn because they have been said so many times they became meaningless, like a statue that is rubbed until it's consumed.
  • Improvised Weapon: The video for "Breezeblocks" has a couple:
    • The woman throws a bottle at the man.
    • The man grabs a cinderblock (sometimes known as, well, a breezeblock) and kills the woman with it.
  • Intercourse with You: "Every Other Freckle" leaves very little to the imagination.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Dream is notable more mellow compared to previous works.
  • Lucky Charms Title: The band's name is actually the Greek letter delta, but it's pronounced "Alt-J" due to the combination of keyboard characters required to type it on a Mac.
    • The titles of interlude tracks on both of their albums are preceded by the ornamental character "❦", called a "fleuron".
  • Lyrical Cold Open: "Interlude 1 (Ripe & Ruin)", "Every Other Freckle", "Breezeblocks", "Matilda", "Ms" and "Fitzpleasure".
  • Miniscule Rocking: All the Interludes on An Awesome Wave clock in at less than two minutes, with Interlude 3 (aka "Piano"), being the shortest at 50 seconds. From This Is All Yours, the sole Interlude (aka "Garden Of England") and "Leaving Nara" are both under two minutes.
  • Murder Ballad: "In Cold Blood" is about a murder at a pool party, albeit who murdered who is a question that is left unanswered.
  • Non-Appearing Title: The intros from An Awesome Wave and This Is All Yours; the Interludes from the same albums; "Ms" from An Awesome Wave; "Arrival In Nara", and "Leaving Nara" from This Is All Yours; and "Deadcrush", "Last Year", and "Pleader" from Relaxer. Other songs where the title in full doesn't appear, but part of the title appears or the title appears with the words separated, include "Bloodflood" (both parts), "The Gospel Of John Hurt", and "Warm Foothills". "3WW" is named after a shortened form of the phrase "Three Worn Words", which does appear in the lyrics, so it doesn't count.
  • Obsession Song: "Breezeblocks", of the passive-aggressive type.
  • Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Joe Newman has a very distinctive one.
  • Precision F-Strike: The only profanity to be found on An Awesome Wave is "shit", which is the very first word of the first track.
    • The intro track on This Is All Yours follows suit, with the words "shit" and "bitch" heard a few times, but no such language elsewhere on the album.
    • Relaxer now has the honor of the first proper f-strike in the song "In Cold Blood".
  • Remix Album: Reduxer, which includes rap remixes of all songs from Relaxer with artists such as Pusha T, Danny Brown, GoldLink and even non-English rappers such as Lomepal and Kontra K. It works better than you might think.
  • Rule of Cool: Word of God says that this is the reason for the Miley Cyrus sample mentioned below.
  • Sampling: The line "I'm a female rebel" from "4x4" by Miley Cyrus is used as a prominent hook in "Hunger Of The Pine". Drummer Thom Green had the acapella vocal track from "4x4" on-hand after making a remix of it, and adding the sample was his idea.
  • Shout-Out: Many of their songs reference movies and literature.
    • The "Matilda" in that song is from The Professional. They later did a song dubbed "Leon", which again refers to the protagonist of that very same film.
    • "Breezeblocks" contains several references to Where the Wild Things Are. The entire bridge goes "please don't go, I'll eat you whole, I love you so," which is a line featured in the book.
    • "Fitzpleasure" is heavily inspired by Last Exit to Brooklyn, even featuring "Tra, la, la, tra, la, tra-a, la, la" as a brief hook at the start of the song.
    • The album art to Relaxer features a screenshot from LSD: Dream Emulator. The first music video to "3WW" is made up of glitched-up footage from the game.
    • "Hit Me Like That Snare" contains a shoutout to Radiohead, specifically the album A Moon Shaped Pool.
    • "Pleader" is an extended reference to How Green Was My Valley, up to and including the title of the novel as the song's hook.
    • "The Actor" is inspired by and references the death of John Belushi
  • Spelling Song: "Fitzpleasure", "Bloodflood" and "Bloodflood pt. II" all have "C-O-DOUBLE M-O-N".
  • Springtime for Hitler: "Left Hand Free" may have been written as a cliché rock song on purpose, but that didn't prevent it from still being awesome in the eyes many of their fans, even getting them a slight notion from Noel Gallagher.
  • Textless Album Cover: An Awesome Wave, This is All Yours, and all of their single artworks up to Relaxer.
  • Video Full of Film Clips: The "Taro" video features clips from Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation.
  • Wanderlust Song: "3WW" is about a young man who leaves his home one morning to roam the countryside. He would later end up in a Red Light District where he would have sex with two hookers.
  • Yandere: The music video for "Breezeblocks" has The Reveal that the male protagonist killed the woman because she'd attacked him and his wife; it's implied she's a Psycho Ex-Girlfriend. The song itself is about a Destructive Romance with If I Can't Have You… implications.