I’m starting the new year with one of my favorite songs from the old one. I’ve loved alt-J since their debut An Awesome Wave had come out, and my love for them hasn’t wavered since. Naturally, when they released their first single off their third record earlier this year, it was pretty much all I listened to for three straight days.
“3WW” is short for three worn words, which I interpret to be “I love you” based on the story told in the lyrics. Those don’t start until way into the song though. You get a minute and forty seconds of solemnity guitar playing, subtle rhythms, meditative synthesizers and an overall calm before Joe Newman starts singing.
The beginning song builds like a sunrise in the mountains: First you see the black night skies lighting up at the horizons, letting the peaks and ragged cliffs be seen in the gray first light of day. The lighter the skies get, the more you’re able to see your surroundings. The more light floods the mountains, the higher the saturation of the colors and the sharpness of the structure gets until finally you see crispness of shape and color underneath blue skies.
Back to the lyrics, though. They circle around people - a guy and two girls - in England’s country side, camping, having sex. There’s talk of roads eroding, smell of sex and burning wood, and comparisons of love to pressing buttons (aka orgasms). Sex is one of alt-J’s most common themes, like in 2014’s “Every Other Freckle” or “Hit Me Like That Snare” from their current record. While those are more explicit than this tune, it’s still overwhelmingly clear once you take the time to listen. Hiding behind the soft crooning of Joe Newman and later Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell and the supple, tender arrangements is a pretty dirty story of threesomes and popping cherries.
That’s what I love about alt-J: The unbelievably onomatopoeic instrumentalization of their songs, that transports you to a scenery. The melodies, that will seduce you to thinking: “What a beautiful tune”. And the lyrics, that get down to business. This is a band with many, many layers. They may not be the most intellectual band of our time, but their definitely up there.
You can learn more about alt-J here:
About the curator - Julia Maehner
Julia knows two main passions: Music and writing. From an early age she has been making music after a fashion. When she was 13, she sat herself down and decided: “I will be a music journalist. Because I love music and writing.” After a brief intermezzo in New York City working for the music boutique agency Girlie Action as a digital marketer, she moved back to Germany. This experience helped her build her know-how for her content marketing client, the business intelligence software CoffeeCup. She still writes for several German music and tech magazines and is working on launching her own blog, amps on ears.
Find out more about Julia and her projects: