Tiny Desk

Alt-J

Alt-J: Tiny Desk Concert

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/167447820/167443546" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

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

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.

Helado Negro performs a Tiny Desk Concert on May 22, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Helado Negro

Helado Negro ditches his bank of electronics for alto and tenor saxophones, bringing his utterly unique style to a intense, perfectly balanced Tiny Desk Concert.

Ravi Coltrane performs a Tiny Desk Concert on May 4, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Ravi Coltrane Quartet

Artistic legacy, evolution and studied ease coalesced at this Tiny Desk Concert, with Coltrane offering four interpretations of his and others' works.

Holly Macve performs a Tiny Desk Concert on May 5, 2017. (Claire Harbage/NPR) Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Tiny Desk

Holly Macve

Backed by a suitably low-key band, Macve would sound subtly radiant just about anywhere, from your nearest country bar to the most dreamily lit stage in Twin Peaks.

Tigers Jaw performs at NPR's Tiny Desk on May 19, 2017. (Raquel Zaldivar/NPR) Raquel Zaldivar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Raquel Zaldivar/NPR

Tiny Desk

Tigers Jaw

The duo strips down to acoustic guitar and keyboard for a strikingly intimate set, illuminating their close harmonies that tangle like garlands.

Back To Top