Gig review: alt-J

WHILE they’ll never be mistaken for wild-eyed insurrectionists, Mercury Prize winners alt-J have an undeniable grasp of atmosphere and dynamics.


O2 Academy, Glasgow

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Mannequin-static on stage, they’re like an organic, student halls Kraftwerk or, when they let those choral harmonies soar, Gregorian androids who’ve studied Fleet Foxes with mathematical precision.

Indeed, their more bombastic moments resemble nothing so much as stadium rock played by alien scientists. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, apart from when they strive towards a generically epic “Now That’s What I Call Indie Anthems!” peak, at which point they turn into Coldplay scoring an independent sci-fi film or a well-meaning BBC Three documentary about sweatshop workers.

At its best, however, their angular choirboy folk music betrays a pleasing melancholy, like a computer shutting itself down for the final time on a grey autumn afternoon. Their arrangements are inventive and meticulous, whether on the bright, clockwork clatter of Dissolve Me or the dramatic, over-driven lurch of Fitzpleasure. Current single Left Hand Free takes a standard 1960s garage-punk riff and moulds it into a louche art-rock groove (even if does sound like I Can’t Dance by Genesis, albeit without the untethered ferocity).

Unfortunately, singer Joe Newman sounded underpowered tonight. On record his voice has a fairly fetching, affected eccentricity, but his reedy whine didn’t translate well to this setting. I’m all for anti-macho voices in rock, but he sounded like a wasp bothering a metronome. Nevertheless, alt-J are an intriguing proposition.

Seen on 18.09.14