Band of beautiful weirdness, alt-J, is back with the first single off its newly announced, upcoming album. Titled Relaxer, the album’s release is set for June 9 and, based on the new track, promises a fuller, glossier sound full of the quirks and experiments that make their style distinct.
Press play on the new song, “3WW,” and let your ears absorb the soft and resonant sounds of throbbing bass and three plucked guitars. Minimal shakers and a muted bass drum back the mysterious music, slowly building into the first verse. True to the album’s title, the instruments play gently without any voice for over a minute and a half.
“3WW” comes in the style of the “Intro” to 2014’s This Is All Yours, which also featured a different-sounding but even longer instrumental opening. This Is All Yours reached number one in the U.K. and number four in the U.S., earning the band its first Grammy nomination, for Best Alternative Album.
“There was a wayward lad,” sings Joe Newman, entering the first verse of “3WW” like the beginning of a melancholy folk legend or a religious chant. That pause in the music for his first words recharges the atmosphere, a momentary break in the enveloping sound. The vocals evolve beautifully just after the two-minute mark, with flourishes of island guitar. Then the chorus explodes out of the calm to finally reveal the meaning behind the track’s title: “Oh these three worn words.”
The band loves to hide meanings behind peculiar words or ways of writing. The name, alt-J, stands for the delta symbol (∆) that a computer types when you hold the “alt” key and hit “J” (Go ahead, try it!) In the album teaser, released simultaneously with the song, random animations flash over the music. The video was titled, “00110011 01110111 01110111,” which, when you translate it from binary, spells “3WW.”
Wolf Alice singer Ellie Roswell makes a surprise guest appearance in the second half of the song, singing a verse herself and then joining Newman at the low-key Broadway-style conclusion, a brighter variation on the beginning. As the first of the new album’s eight songs, it sets up an album of serious but musically playful alternative. The very nature of the band’s style could make that a totally false lead, but the song is an exciting first listen to alt-J’s third LP. alt-J are playing London’s O2 arena for its tenth birthday on June 16, with dates in eight U.S. cities in the following months.