Listened On Repeat: Tessellate by ∆ (Alt-J)

christine_newDo I have an affinity towards smart British boy bands?  If you have been reading my columns you might have come to this conclusion before I did.  I’m learning a lot about myself it seems through this column.  

I wanted to talk about this song primarily because of the lyrics.  Alt-J loves them some math metaphors.  The title, Tessellate, itself is a math based metaphor for sex.  “Tessellation is the process of creating a two-dimensional plane using the repetition of a geometric shape with no overlaps and no gaps, everything fits neatly into each other.” (Genius) You can see how that can easily translate into tessellating till morning comes.  They also have recently been a bit more obvious about their name of late.  They’ve recently using a ∆ symbol as their name which you can type by, you guessed it, typing alt-J.  I personally am attracted to that tongue-in-cheek type writing.  When you’re in on the joke, you’re in on the joke.  If you discover the double meaning after some time you get a satisfaction from that discovery.  Besides the lyrics, I believe what drew me to specifically write about this song was Joe Newman’s haunting vocal performance.  Although his vocals have a unique quality in all of ∆ (Alt-J)’s work, this specific song has a strange neutrality to his performance.  



I enjoy when things aren’t dumbed down to accommodate the lower common denominators.  When culture becomes too easy to swallow it loses its substance.  Alt-J doesn’t dumb down their lyrics and music and they have received worldwide success and recognition.  I’m not saying writing smart music and having a hit are mutually exclusive, but you have to admit when listening to the top ten, it is rare.  Now this may have sounded pretty elitist of me, but I want to be specific.  There’s a lot of culture (visual, musical and otherwise) that goes above most of our heads.  When we start to digest it we start to see the intricacies we may not have noticed at first glance.  This is a common theme with a lot of the songs I write about here.  It’s not until we listen to them multiple times that they start to give away their secrets.  When we make things too simplified it ceases to represent our experiences (isn’t that essentially at its core what art and culture does?) and if we’re being honest, our experiences are anything but simple.   


Lyrics (you might need these):


Bite chunks out of me

You’re a shark and I’m swimming

My heart still thumps as I bleed

And all your friends come sniffing


Triangles are my favourite shape

Three points where two lines meet

Toe to toe, back to back, let’s go

My love it’s very late

‘Til morning comes, let’s tessellate


Go alone my flower

And keep my whole lovely you

Wild green stones alone my lover

And keep us on my heart


Three guns and one goes off

One’s empty, one’s not quick enough

One burn, one red, one green

Search the graves while the camera spins

Chunks of you will sink down to seals

Blubber rich in mourning

They’ll nosh you up, yes they’ll nosh the love away

But it’s fair to say

You will still haunt me


Link Love:



Contributing Music Editor Christine Banna teaches in the Animation and Interactive Media Department at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly MA. You can subscribe to Christine’s newsletter, Listen Carefully and Thoroughly Many Times, here.

This article was prepared for publication by Callie Garp.

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