alt-J @ Manchester 02 Apollo preview: one of Britain’s biggest bands is well and truly back

In an album recorded during a once-in-a-century pandemic, there is but one reference to its unique place in time: ‘I’ll start the day with tiramisu, raise a spoon to frontline workers. An underfunded principle, they risk all to be there for us.’

By Jack Marshall
Friday, 13th May 2022, 9:14 am
Updated Friday, 13th May 2022, 10:29 am

The Dream is indie rock band alt-J’s fourth album following An Awesome Wave (2012), This Is All Yours (2014), and Relaxer (2017). It’s a record about murder, love, Coca-Cola, revenge, crypto currency, loss, cocaine, hope, and just about everything else.

“It’s like fantasy and escaping, and that’s what we’ve always done in our albums – it’s always about falling in love, losing love, and losing loved ones,” says vocalist Joe Newman. “It’s what I’m drawn to, lyrically.

“The best thing about writing is focusing on each sentence as a vignette and then sewing them all together so they form some sort of coherence, but you’re not entirely sure what you’re listening to,” he adds. “The fact that it’s ambiguous leads you to want to listen to it more.

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alt-J (credit George Muncey)

“It’s so boring telling someone how to feel; you actually want to offer them something that brings up a strong visual response, and then they can step into that world and try to visualise it themselves. That’s far more interesting.”

With Joe joined by fellow vocalist, keyboard player, and bassist Gus Unger-Hamilton as well as percussionist Thom Sonny Green, alt-J have sold more than two million copies during the last decade, but The Dream started life in a rented house in East London.

It was January 2020 and what emerged was a record of intrigue fizzing with experimentalism.

“When we first met up after the year off, I was pretty nervous,” says Green. “I wasn’t sure what we were going to do and how I was going to feel. But I always forget how easy it is. It feels instinctual. For me, personally, I just know what to do. It felt really uplifting.”

alt-J (credit Rosie Matheson)

But, with the album undulating from lively tracks such as U&ME to more pondering songs such as Get Better, which brought Unger-Hamilton to tears when Newman first played it for him, the end result is irresistible.

“You forget how easy it is [to work together],” says Newman. “And how quickly the writing can unfold.”

alt-J are playing the Manchester 02 Apollo tonight.

alt-J (credit George Muncey)