Entertainment Music

Tuesday 22 October 2019


ed power

olympia theatre, dublin

Alt-J are the sort of band the Mercury Music Prize was created to champion. Though they work hard at being obtuse, with repeated listening their Radiohead-esque songs turn out to be suspiciously seductive. Bridging the murky and the mainstream, the north of England quartet were well positioned to benefit from having the spotlight fixed on them last October when, in a rare case of the bookies calling it correctly, they saw off Plan B and Lianne La Havas to scoop the UK album of the year gong for their debut, An Awesome Wave.

Ever since, their popularity has grown exponentially. An American tour saw Mumford and Sons-levels of success; now they're back in Europe and playing to an Olympia so stuffed with trendy 30-somethings you wonder if someone's been bussing hipsters in from across the country.

What these interestingly quiffed masses have assembled for is an hour or so of moderately engaging art-pop, layered – in proper Radiohead tradition – to within an inch of its life, and with old-fashioned choruses and hooks rationed severely (if the group attempted anything as straightforward as a shouty refrain they'd likely be drowned out by a mass outbreak of eye-rolling).

Standing absolutely still, framed by a blinding lighting rig, Alt J run briskly through An Awesome Wave. With its Moby-esque synths and folksy guitars, 'Something Good' is a sweet Frankenstein of a track. They take a more predictable route on the droning 'Fitzpleasure' and the Kid A-ish 'Breezeblocks' is a sourpuss rocker that stumbles on a groove almost inspite of itself.

With the four musicians rooted to the spot, the tunes are airless recreations of their recorded versions. The closest Alt-J comes to a surprise is the Kylie Minogue-Dr Dre mash-up 'Slow Dre', an unfortunate example of an alternative outfit smugly defenestrating a pop ditty under the misapprehension they are bringing fresh ideas to the soiree.

Meticulously assembled, their songs possess the sweep, grace and dizzying intricacy of cutting-edge architecture. Nevertheless, there's something bloodless about the performance. For all their fealty to the Kid A blueprint, they appear not to have realised that it's the searing ambivalence at the heart of Radiohead's music that sets Thom Yorke's mob apart from the rest.

Alt-J, in contrast, could be considered a Keane for the tweeting classes – they are clever and ambitious and yet, as the umpteenth unorthodox composition rumbles past, you start to wonder where it is all leading.

Irish Independent

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