Alt-J – “3WW” Track Review
After the breakout success of An Awesome Wave (2012) confounded industry expectations and shot Alt-J to superstardom, the Mercury Prize winning trio have done a fine job cementing their elite-level-status in the UK. Their sophomore LP had enough hooks and intriguing textures to keep Alt-J odd, while still proving playable on the radio. But what now: are Alt-J free to experiment or locked into an artistic halfway house?
Well the messages are certainly conflicting. The arrival of their new single coincides with the news that the band will be playing the 20,000 capacity O2 Arena (so ambition, or at least demand, remains in tact), but as for “3WW” itself, it’s a proggy naval gazer with only the slightest of concessions to the mainstream. The needling hooks of old that underwrote the band’s alien experimentation are still present, but subdued on a track that is slow to swell.
The Radiohead-ish creep of the rhythm section is set against an off kilter, but imminently hummable lead guitar part (a trope that Alt-J have really made their own). “3WW’s” slight sonic flourishes are a delight. The soft piano keys and subtly plucked acoustic guitar notes bring to life what at times sounds like an ambient electronic composition being covered by a working rock band. Whether this is a good dynamic remains to be seen, with the track lacking either the alien stillness of synthetic music or the rough and tumble of live rock.
Despite the impressive craftsmanship on display, the first half of the song proves haunting, but unforgivably naff. “3WW” feels worryingly like a pastiche of Alt-J’s own ambitions: a concept more interesting than a song, but then, belatedly, the emotional heartbeat of the track comes to fore.
Joe Newman’s vocal cracks and humanity rushes in. Better still, Ellie Roswell (Wolf Alice) joins the fray atop a gorgeous piano line that feels as if it fell off the back of Vampire Weekend’s last LP. Offering a rejoinder to Alt-J’s elaborate and ornate lyricism, she deadpans: “Love is just a button we pressed by the campfire”. Then, at the death, the two vocalists intertwine with a detached fragility to coo, “I just want to love you in my own language“, ensuring this strange journey arrives at a beauteous end point.