alt-J’s name takes a little explaining. Pronounced “alt-J”, 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.
Gwil, Joe Newman [guitar/vocals], Gus Unger-Hamilton [keyboards] and Thom Green [drums] met at Leeds University in 2007. Gus studied English Literature; the other three Fine Art. In their second year of studies, Joe played Gwil a handful of his own songs inspired by his guitar-playing dad and hallucinogens, and the pair began recording in their dorm rooms with Gwil acting as producer on Garageband.
Needless to say, the response to Joe’s hushed falsetto yelps and Gwil’s rudimentary sampling skills was good. When Thom was played the tracks he joined the band straight away. “I hadn’t heard anything like it,” he says. “It was music I was looking for, I just didn’t know I was. I just loved it.”
Veering wildly from psychedelic avant pop to skeletal folktronica, the finished album promises to trade in understated beauty one minute and epic oddities the next, just as you’d expect from a debut album that tackles everything from love to bullfighting to the heroic life of 1930s war photographer Gerda Taro, crushed by a tank on the frontline. Other tracks are inspired by cinema, including ‘Matilda’ (about Natalie Portman’s character in Luc Besson’s Leon) and the Good The Bad And The Ugly-referencing ‘Tessellate’.
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