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This review first appeared in The Fly on 29/11

It’s maybe too early to predict just how far Alt-J are going to be catapulted into the stratosphere following their Mercury win but tonight, performing to a packed-out Ballroom, they feel like a sensible victor.

When frontman Joe Newman murmurs through geometric love-song ‘Tesselate’, the utterance ‘three points, where two lines meet’ feels like a fitting metaphor for a band who don’t so much embrace different sounds as Pritt-stick them together into a beautifully sculptured lump. The foreboding piano and a cryptic loop reminiscent of The XX‘s beautifully isolated ‘Islands’ is gripping, as lyrics both sensual and sadistic mesh together: ‘Yes they’ll nosh the love away, but it’s fair to say/You will still haunt me.’

During their quiet, introspective moments Alt-J share cosy a capella harmonies not unlike Fleet Foxes or Local Natives – a well-worn path to pleasing critics, perhaps. But, on tracks like ‘Fitzpleasure’, they take the formula and send an electric current right through it, with Newman’s lyrics bursting out his throat with the ferocity of a man at an exorcism.

It’s their reluctance to be pigeonholed which remains Alt-J‘s greatest weapon. While ‘Interlude I’ and ‘Bloodflood’ lack the resonance of the band’s bigger songs, they are blissful and intimate in a small venue like this, though that could get lost in bigger, loftier spaces. Elsewhere, ‘Breezeblocks’ is a bawdy sing-a-long cloaking sinister undertones.

Strangely, when the band choose to cover Kylie Minogue‘s ‘Slow’, there’s a moment of clarity unlike any other tonight. Maybe it’s because the lyrics aren’t dissimilar to those in ‘Tesselate’ – it doesn’t feel like foreign territory. Or maybe there’s something in how comfortable Alt-J are with sounding like a pop act, something much of this year’s shortlist tried so hard to avoid.

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This review first appeared in The Fly on 29/11

It’s 7pm, and we’re in Heaven. It’s very quiet, which makes sense, because main act Clock Opera isn’t on for a couple of hours. But it’s also worrying, because the very excellent support act Bright Light Bright Light is on in about 15 minutes and the place is, to be blunt, pretty dead.

Heaven’s big stage, arching brickwork and cavernous feel aren’t the most inviting venue if nobody’s there to fill it yet. That, and BLBL (aka Rod Thomas) isn’t known for being low-key – especially as he’s just finished a 2 week tour with the Scissor Sisters. Demure, Lana Del Gloom-Pop this ain’t.

In fact, BLBL specialises in endorphin-pumped pop – comparisons with Erasure and The Pet Shop Boys seem fair. It’s big, loud but introspective, which has drawn obvious comparisons with Robyn, too. By the time he takes to the stage in an excellent Hawaiian shirt (basically telling November to do one), Thomas unleashes an intense, 30-minute set peppered with big, clever songs from his debut album ‘Make Me Believe In Hope’. And with that, the crowd is suddenly ten times the size.

‘Disco Moment’ and its cathartic chide of ‘you make it so hard to be around’ has a brutal honesty among its pulsating, dizzying disco backdrop. ‘Make Me…’s lyrics are straight to the point, rarely cryptic, and show Rod at his most exposed when he’s swaddled in synth music. It’s a brilliant set, quick, intense and sudden, but BLBL’s impression lasts far longer. This is disco, soul, pop and dance music etched into the DNA of one of the most exciting and overlooked records of the year. And it’s in this cavernous room that it really shines, filling every shadowed corner and, as his name suggests, illuminating all the dark spaces.

Chris Mandle