Tiny Desk

Alt-J

Download Audio

12 min 57 sec

There's mystery in the music of Alt-J: The band's songs are wrapped in enigmatic textures, with swift shifts in arrangements inside every song and an oddness to the drums. Mere glimpses of lyrics are discernible, even after listening over and over — and if you can decipher the words, the meanings don't necessarily follow immediately. Still, those words reside at the core of Alt-J, and they're cinematic and stunning and sometimes brutal.

Seeing Alt-J live in concert — or here at the Tiny Desk — reveals a few of those mysteries, making a band that can be difficult on first listen a bit easier to digest. For one, seeing Joe Newman sing makes his words less oblique; for another, that curious rhythm at the foundation of the songs reveals not a hint of cymbals. And, though the drums are stripped down more than ever at the Tiny Desk, they still provide the essence of an original sound. Thom Green plays mostly with a mounted tambourine and cowbell for the sorts of things a hi-hat would accomplish — that tick tick sound, with the snap of the sound coming from a small-bodied 10" snare called a popcorn snare. The sparseness that happens in the absence of crashing cymbals leaves a lot of space in the music.

Alt-J is from Leeds, England — home to another of my favorite art-rock bands, Gang of Four. Both play angular, poetic music that takes unexpected turns, shifting gears when you least expect it. Alt-J made my favorite album of 2012, An Awesome Wave, and if you're new to the group, the understated sound may get lost on you at first. But listen to the words and study how the songs evolve: No one else is making music like this. This is an original, innovative band with a brilliant present and a brighter future.

Set List
  • "Tessellate"
  • "Something Good"
  • "Matilda"
Credits

Producer: Bob Boilen; Editor: Denise DeBelius; Audio Engineers: Kevin Wait, Suraya Mohamed; Videographers: Denise DeBelius, Christopher Parks, Ryan Smith; photo by Lauren Rock/NPR

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with Car Seat Headrest. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Car Seat Headrest

Will Toledo is a wordsmith with a vision, as well as a DIY sound that's still finely crafted.

Tiny Desk Concert with EL VY. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tiny Desk

EL VY

The National's Matt Berninger and Menomena's Brent Knopf team up in an intimate setting.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Arcs. Jessica Mowery/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jessica Mowery/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Arcs

It's our 500th show at the Tiny Desk, featuring The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach and his new band.

Tiny Desk Concert with Wolf Alice. NPR hide caption

toggle caption NPR

Tiny Desk

Wolf Alice

The band's music can be noisy and primal, but at the Tiny Desk it showed a different side.

Tiny Desk Concert with River Whyless. Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

River Whyless

The North Carolina band fills its rootsy music with unexpected instruments and clever ideas.

Tiny Desk Concert with Benny Sings. Morgan Walker/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Morgan Walker/NPR

Tiny Desk

Benny Sings

The Dutch singer layers R&B, jazz and pop over hip-hop beats in his first-ever U.S. appearance.

Tiny Desk Concert with Natalie Merchant Jun Tsuboike /NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike /NPR

Tiny Desk

Natalie Merchant

The singer-songwriter gives a warmhearted performance of two new songs, an old favorite and a hymn.

Tiny Desk Concert with Mariachi Flor De Toloache Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Mariachi Flor De Toloache

While on tour with The Arcs, the powerhouse mariachi band performs live in the NPR Music offices.

Tiny Desk Concert with Rapsody Jun Tsuboike/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jun Tsuboike/NPR

Tiny Desk

Rapsody

Watch the rapper perform three songs from Beauty And The Beast live at the NPR Music offices.

In January, Mucca Pazza set a Tiny Desk record by fitting 23 members onstage. Colin Marshall/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Colin Marshall/NPR

All Songs Considered

2015: Looking Back On A Year At The Tiny Desk

This year, NPR Music published 84 sessions from behind Bob Boilen's desk. Here are 15 highlights.

Back To Top

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor