Alt-J performed in the KeyArena at Bumbershoot, a giant venue that, as the keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton put it, “may be the biggest place we’ve ever played in”. I was in the crowd, amid packed flocks of people (most of whom seemed younger than me…or else I look and feel older), during their show.
Alt-J’s genre has been described as reedy rock, or chillwave, or that eponymous label indie rock. But they are more genre-spanning and indefinable, uniting choral harmonies with somewhat atonal, arrhythmic instrumental lines, before submitting more familiar melodies. Joe Newman, the vocalist, determinedly stays high and nasal as he sings what are probably Alt-J’s defining characteristic for me personally – the lyrics.
What’s odd about them is that even though they are weird, they’re ultimately quite sweet. Breezeblocks is probably one of their biggest hits, and it captures this contrast perfectly. The music video is gorgeous, a perfect little dark story of obsession and manslaughter, that ultimately inverts your expectations of the apparently formulaic story by telling the story in reverse. The weird darkness reveals itself to be ultimately sweet. Other songs reference sharks sniffing blood in the water, and draw comparison between that and memories of a lost love.
That flip is what I think drew the crowd to Bumbershoot; just enough of a melody to make it hummable, but enough depth to lend gravitas. Sadly, however, depth doesn’t translate necessarily to a huge, packed crowd. I had the strangest vibe while in the crowd that even as they swayed to whatever recognizable bass and drum combo that occurred, there was a very real lack of connection between the music and the audience.
It wasn’t the artists; Alt-J put on a fine performance. It’s just that their music isn’t quite danceable. It doesn’t need to be, but it felt like the crowd wanted it to be. Rather an interesting disconnect, and one that I have observed more and more frequently while perusing job listings.
They have the same buzzwords across pretty much every industry: “customer obsession”, “ambition”, “compelling”, “data-driven”, “passionate”…I have to give props for Redfin for employing “tenacity”, “grit”, and “fire”.
It is similar to the standard rock that Alt-J inverts, and I think that listings could invert expectations and drum up more interest by doing something similar. Hence I propose these alterations:
“gut-rumbling hunger for rewards in this world and the next”