There was a distinct moment when Alt-J took the stage this past Tuesday night at Glasslands. Simultaneously there was a heightened air of excitement and energy, coupled with an extremely odorous aroma – the kind left hanging in the air after a rowdy punk show. While my nostrils were momentarily accosted, I knew Alt-J was about to perform for the first time in Brooklyn and from that point I turned off my sense of smell and let my eyes and ears do the experiencing. Totally worth it.
This was a show I had been looking forward to for a while, ever since I head “Breezeblocks” on a MS MR mixtape a few months ago. I soon discovered Alt-J is in a new musical genre that’s recently been made up, known as ‘indietelligent.’ Whether that makes you snort in amusement or tilt your head in curiosity, it’s actually pretty accurate. Alt-J, who take their name from the computer keyboard key combination that creates a triangle, a mathematical symbol to show change, makes music that’s hard to box into a category, but it’s indie, and it sounds fresh, interesting, and smart. Ironically, “Breezeblocks” may actually be one of their more simple songs musically, but it’s easily their most popular. They played all the hits off their album, Awesome Wave, like “Tessellate” with the awesomely catchy yet so simple bassline, “Something Good” with the really good drum beat, “Dissolve Me,” “Fitzpleasure,” and a secret track off the album, “Handmade.” But as soon as the band went into “Breezeblocks” after a quick guitar solo interlude, the intelligent indie fringe kids went from calm respectfulness to serious raucous. ‘
It’s also quite possible that much of this energy stemmed from a slow buildup that the lads created from their first note. Drummer Thom Green was solid behind his set, laying low but strong with his hits, using bongos and other percussive accoutrements that are a huge part of the uniqueness of their sound. Guitarist/bassist/vocalist/all around auxiliary man Gwil finger tapped, finger cymbal clapped, and enhanced everything they did. Front man Joe Newman, well, no one has a voice quite like him, and his delivery and expression of the lyrics is definitely integral to setting them apart from anything else, along with the on-point harmonies of Buddy Holly (Gus Unger-Hamilton) over there on keys and xylophone. Him and Newman pulled off a sweet little a cappella together for a few verses, and as a whole, Alt-J pulled off flawlessly what they created in the studio. There’s no hidden magic, these sounds are actually happening. By the end of their set, they had kids holding up the Alt-J gang sign of a triangle and applauding in appreciation, and it was much deserved.
Brooklyn-based Mon Khmer was befitting for sharing the bill, as they combine several musical genres, and combine them well. They’re a tight-knit ensemble who combine math rock elements of polyrhythms, tempo changes, offbeat up strums, and fingerpicked melodies that can get heavy then go melodic, and have a tendency to lead up to darkly brilliant climaxes.
SoftSpot, also Brooklyn-based, was the show opener, and had their own musical angle that combined the classical opera-trained vocals of bassist Sarah Kinlaw along with punk dirge and melodic shoegaze. Think something along the lines of a Portishead and Sonic Youth mashup. This is a band to watch.
Alt-J have shows lined up until infinity, or at least until January of next year. That includes several European festivals coming up, as well as a return to the States, and even more specifically, Bowery Ballroom in NYC on September 12. Anyone who missed out on tix this time around, here’s your second chance. View the complete list of dates and find tickets on the band’s tour page. No more shows for Mon Khmer, but they are releasing a new EP on iTunes, so tune into their Facebook for news and updates. SoftSpot have no further tour info listed either, so again stay tuned by stalking the BookFace.