alt-J: Tiny Desk Concert I have a self-imposed rule for Tiny Desk Concerts: No artist can visit twice unless there's something wholly different about what they're doing. alt-J was happy to oblige.

Tiny Desk

alt-J

As the primary booker of the Tiny Desk Concerts, I have this self-imposed rule: No artist can come back for a second visit unless there's something wholly different about what they're doing. The first time alt-J played the Tiny Desk, in 2012, they came as a four-piece; electric guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. They were a pretty new band, their album had been out a few months and they were playing in clubs for a couple hundred people, not much more.

In the five years since the band visited it has found quite a few new fans. When I heard cuts from the newest album Relaxer a few months ago I flipped and tried to think of a way to bring them back. So I wrote them, saying I'd love to have them again but that it would have to be wholly, out-of-the-box different. I told them I'd hire a brass band, an African kora player if need be, a string section... They took up the challenge. They told me to find a cellist and two violinists.

I wrote to my friend Carol Anne Bosco, a cellist, who turned out to be a huge fan of the band and helped find two violinists for the performance. About four days before the performance the band sent the string parts, written by their friend Will Gardner.

On Monday morning, the English band met the American string players and they all gathered behind my desk. As they worked their way through a first pass at "Three Worn Words," I noticed them and relieved — alt-J had actually never heard the string arrangements, this was the first time. They sounded beautiful. By noon, NPR employees and friends gathered around my desk to witness this astonishing concert from alt-J, including two new songs and two old favorites. Magic.

Relaxer is available for pre-order now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List

  • "3WW"
  • "In Cold Blood"
  • "Warm Foothills"
  • "Taro"

Musicians

Joe Newman (guitar, vocals); Thom Green (drums); Gus Unger-Hamilton (keys, vocals)

String Arrangements

Will Gardner

Guest Musicians

Carol Anne Bosco (cello); Kristin Bakkegard (violin); Paul Bagley (violin)


Credits

Producers: Bob Boilen, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Morgan Noelle Smith, Bronson Arcuri; Production Assistant: A Noah Harrison; Photo: Marian Carrasquero/NPR.

For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

ALA.NI performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 20, 2017. (Photo: Liam James Doyle/NPR) Liam James Doyle/NPR/NRR hide caption

toggle caption Liam James Doyle/NPR/NRR

Tiny Desk

ALA.NI

ALA.NI captures and conveys a reverent love of early-20th-century music, while injecting those sounds with charisma and charm well suited for any era.

Maggie Rogers performs a Tiny Desk concert at NPR headquarters. Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Liam James Doyle/NPR

Tiny Desk

Maggie Rogers

The rising pop star performs three of her best-known songs, including a sweet solo take on her career-making "Alaska."

Aldous Harding performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 6, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Aldous Harding

Intensity in songs often expresses itself as volume – a loud guitar, a scream, a piercing synth line. But in the case of Aldous Harding it's in the spaces, the pauses, and her unique delivery.

James Mercer of The Shins performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 19, 2017. (Liam James Doyle/NPR) Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Liam James Doyle/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Shins

James Mercer, the emotional and creative heart of The Shins, gives a moving performance at the Tiny Desk, with two new songs and a classic from the band's 2003 album Chutes Too Narrow.

Albin Lee Meldau performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 12, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Albin Lee Meldau

Albin Lee Meldau possesses a thunderous, deeply affecting voice, which he uses to tell some utterly dark, but demonstrably cathartic, tales.

Rare Essence performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 9, 2017. (Liam James Doyle/NPR) Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Liam James Doyle/NPR

Tiny Desk

Rare Essence

Rare Essence has been bringing go-go to the world since 1976 — the group brought that pedigree, and the genre's massive meld of funk, rhythm and blues and soul, to this raucous hometown Tiny Desk.

Tuxedo performs a Tiny Desk Concert on May 20th, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Tuxedo

Tuxedo, the unlikely-on-paper funk-soul duo of Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One, brought a left-of-center sonic approach and a sharp sense of style to their Tiny Desk Concert.

Fragile Rock performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 16, 2017. (Photo: Liam James Doyle/NPR) Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Liam James Doyle/NPR

Tiny Desk

Fragile Rock

Fragile Rock is a band that relies on the boogie of The B-52s, the melancholy of The Smiths and the humor of Kermit the Frog. Oh, and they're all puppets.

Jay Som performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 7, 2017. (Liam James Doyle/NPR) Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Liam James Doyle/NPR

Tiny Desk

Jay Som

Melina Duterte may have played all the instruments on Jay Som's newest record, Everybody Works, but her touring band brought a rougher edge to those silky recordings.

Chance The Rapper performs a Tiny Desk Concert on June 5, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Chance The Rapper

Chance The Rapper, fresh from a 23,000-strong, sold-out show the night before, brought a thoughtful and fresh take to his Tiny Desk concert.

Back To Top