Originally published on Wed August 27, 2014 9:48 am
Even before Alt-J's An Awesome Wave took home this year's Mercury Prize (which honors a panel's choice for the best record to emerge from the U.K. each year), there had been considerable buzz about the band on this side of the Atlantic. By the time the album finally came out here in September — it had been released abroad several months earlier — An Awesome Wave's arrival received the kind of attention few debuts ever see. It found the Cambridge quartet fully formed, with an original sound that was catchy but strange, accessible but experimental; whether those qualities are mutually exclusive or not is open for discussion. Just how accessible has alt-J been found to be? Winning the Mercury Prize is one thing, but becoming mainstream department-store soundtrack fare during the busy U.S. Christmas shopping season is another one altogether.
It's easy to imagine alt-J playing larger U.S. venues, and indeed those dates are coming this spring. We managed to catch the band in the comparatively small confines of Portland's Star Theater, recorded near the end of a U.S. tour that had been booked pre-Mercury Prize. Bassist Gwil Sainsbury and drummer Thom Green were battling the flu, but they soldiered through along with Gus Unger-Hamilton on keyboards and Joe Newman on lead vocals and guitar. Here, alt-J performs the standout song "Fitzpleasure" from An Awesome Wave.