Alt-J at Trinity College Dublin, Tuesday 11 July 2017
It’s easy to not fully appreciate, or even completely forget, just how idiosyncratic Alt-J actually are. Their music is a weirdo genre fusion, with patently absurdist lyrics delivered by one of the most unlikely lead vocal styles of any of the big-name indie/alternative acts knocking around at the moment.
But somehow it’s easy to just get up and go along with this, without thinking very much about how odd it all actually is. Alt-J’s music is just damn easy to listen to. The trio make great singles, so great in fact that you hardly notice the patchwork of oddball elements that songs are composed from.
But thankfully the band seem to have taken things down a refreshingly bonkers route on their latest LP ‘Relaxer’. Each of the four new tracks showcased at their recent Trinity College Summer Series gig was wildly different from the other, to the point that each one was wildly incongruous with the more familiar tracks (drawn primarily from the bands awesome first album) that surrounded it. Alt-J have returned weirder than ever. And this is a good thing.
The summer evening gig kicks off with the supremely chill prolonged instrumental intro 3WW from their new album. The track meanders from gentle folk to distortion-laced synth riffs, and Alt-J – supported by some dazzling stage lights – channel the downbeat and minimal (that at times is even in danger of being a little boring) into a lovely, nuanced opening number.
After a crowd-pleasing detour through Something Good and Tessellate, the next new song gets an airing. In Cold Blood is probably the biggest sounding tune Alt-J have ever written, with a huge big band chorus that comes crashing in like the theme song to a Bond movie and then swerves off into psychedelic folk territory last occupied by the Incredible String Band in the late ‘60s.
Obviously, the old songs hit home better than the newer ones, but the music Alt-J are making at the moment seems to have driven new life into the music they made years ago. Dissolve Me sounds fuller and heavier than ever before, landing home with big rock hits and oodles of reverb, while still losing none of its airy, dreamlike translucence.
The stage lights owe a lot to how well the show works. Each of the band’s members are seperated by rows of slender steel bars, each containing a bank of LED lights that rise and fall in hypnotic unison.
It’s a nicely psychedelic effect that never overdoes it. Even when Alt-J take yet another abrupt left turn into the ‘80s new waveish (feat. strong hints of punk) Hit Me Like That Snare, with the lights blaring and blasting along to the rollicking tune, it all still somehow maintains a pleasing level of chill.
If there was a missed trick in the set, it was the omission of Adeline – another one from the new album. It’s not the best song on there, but it does – for reasons that’re not immediately obvious – sample the chorus of The Auld Triangle halfway through, which surely would have gone down well in Dublin.
Instead, the band close out the show by playing pretty much the all of the remaining tracks from ‘An Awesome Wave’ – weaving their way from the caress of Matilda to a bombastic Fitzpleasure, ultimately closing things out on the pounding mechanical groove of Breezeblocks.
The set is a welcome reminder of all that Alt-J can do, and how much strange territory their sound encompasses.