I’ve been trying to find a selected sort of lyrical, melodic, mushy electronica. I went via Sufjan Steven’s The Ascension (assume “Video Sport”), Jamie xx, a little bit of Tame Impala and plenty of Joji earlier than remembering alt-J. The British band combines components of electronica, rock and pop to create the distinct texture of their music. I knew their hottest track, “Breezeblocks,” however I had by no means actually listened to their albums critically up till now. It was down this lane of rediscovery that I stumbled upon alt-J’s model of Invoice Withers’ “Pretty Day.”
Alt-J peaked round 2015. They did truly come out with a brand new album final 12 months, referred to as The Dream, but it surely was nowhere close to as groundbreaking as An Superior Wave (2012) or That is All Yours (2014). Their weird-sounding stuff turned extra homogenized in The Dream, and so they appear to be leaning away from sonic experimentation and in direction of lyrical composition, leading to extra normal-sounding songs.Sadly for alt-J, sounding like a traditional track is a step down.
Possibly that is why Pitchfork by no means favored them. As a goofy, different rock act whose songs by no means actually go wherever, alt-J’s albums have been accused of being “overstuffed and messy” (An Superior Wave) or “uninteresting and tuneless.” (That is All Yours. Pitchfork makes me chuckle.) Even so, I consider there are fairly a couple of tracks value salvaging. Possibly not “Heat Foothills.” However undoubtedly “Pretty Day.”
The observe begins off with the band members harmonizing to a mushy piano and guitar backing, and a circling synth riff. Including to this advanced construction, the lyrics “After I get up within the morning, love” nearly float into the track. If Invoice Withers’ voice embraced you just like the sunshine, then alt-J’s vocals are like that one beam of solar regularly getting stronger, making its means via the clouds. Briefly, I acknowledge Invoice Withers’ “Pretty Day,” however not absolutely. The hesitant state of semi-recognition is exactly what this column, Seeing Double, goals to research.
Invoice Withers. The way to sum up his genius in only one paragraph? Earlier than I knew Invoice Withers, I used to be first obsessive about Joanna Wang’s cowl of “Simply the Two of Us.” (In the event you’ve additionally listened to her in your youth — contact me.) After all, I quickly received round to wanting up the track on YouTube, in addition to studying about Withers. Metal drums and the synth made the track sound starry, as if the music itself was giving off sparks, one thing I by no means thought was potential. Withers’ voice has an uncanny means of embodying therapeutic and ache on the similar time. Even in “Lean on Me,” as Withers encourages a good friend to go to him for assist, the track takes a considerably pessimistic (and sensible) flip: “For it received’t be lengthy / Until I’m gonna want / Anyone to lean on.”
Withers’ music relied closely on piano, guitar backing and various percussive rhythms. He included jazz and funk to create a wealthy, full sound. In some methods, no matter alt-J did to “Pretty Day” was already there in Withers’ unique: the harmonizing, the meandering aspect melody, the funky bass. It made me recognize the complexity of Withers’ composition greater than ever earlier than.
Alt-J’s sound is so distinctive that their replica of “Pretty Day” resists comparability. Alt-J borrows lyrics and musical components from Withers, and the 2 songs echo one another in a stunning means. Alt-J’s rhythmic sample is completely totally different from that of Withers, and a good portion of alt-J’s “Pretty Day” is slower and extra synth primarily based. Within the refrain, alt-J brings again the circling synth riff and drawn-out vocal harmonizing. Alt-J appears to supply a extra saturated and metallic sound, which is their understanding of what “Pretty Day” may need gave the impression of if it was written within the 21st century as an alternative of 1977. Somebody on Reddit (sure, there’s a thread about this track) sees it as “extra of a tribute than a canopy.” I completely loved alt-J’s “Pretty Day.” However for me, the track actually issues as a result of it was written by Invoice Withers. I’m not essentially voting in favor of alt-J just because Invoice Withers is, for lack of a greater phrase, an actual G.
Alt-J’s music is a mishmash. In spite of everything, the band began as a scholar manufacturing. Constraints within the artistic course of unleashed their experimental components proper from the beginning. The voice, electrical guitar, bass and drums weave out and in of one another, essentially working collectively as an alternative of centering any single voice. The band’s drummer Thom Inexperienced crafts the percussion from a big selection of devices and toys together with cowbells, bongos and tambourines. Inexperienced by no means makes use of any cymbals, leaving extra room for every factor to face out by itself. The fragile stability is what permits alt-J’s music to keep away from sounding overly crowded or chaotic.
What attracts me to alt-J’s music, which envelopes emotive songwriting in quirky melodies and colourful beats, is maybe a sort of impatience with staying in the identical sample for too lengthy. That is what beneficial properties alt-J labels like “progressive” and “genre-defying.” Behind it, I think about, is a sort of generative anxiousness that drives most artistic manufacturing. The band’s identify comes from the delta image, which is produced by hitting “alt” and the letter “j” on a Mac keyboard. Utilizing mathematical ideas like “change” and “distinction” as motifs, the band got down to present one thing new for the music scene. They sound bizarre, however in a mesmerizing means.
The janky high quality of spring climate — the regularly softening breeze, sporadic bouts of heat, a summer season that’s nearly right here however not fairly — makes it the best time to deal with your ears to some alt-J. This isn’t to say that alt-J is janky. They’re simply caught within the awkward mechanisms of turning into.
Skylar Xu is a junior within the Faculty of Arts & Sciences. They are often reached at [email protected] Seeing Double runs alternate weeks.