Hot on the heels of their fourth album release, and as they stand on the brink of a month-long UK/Ireland tour, ALT-J have shared their masterful video for The Actor.

The Actor is the fifth track on the album The Dream, and sits as a slightly more melodic counterpoint to track four, Happier When You’re Gone, and as a mind-settling and satisfying prelude to the heart-rending song of love and loss, Get Better.

To me, this song (and the album it features on) marks a subtle departure from the previous records. Although the sound is unmistakably alt-J‘s (packed with those familiar hints of otherworldliness, angular soundscapes, clever timings and changes of mode), there are also some bold new directional elements here, too. The vocals seem to come through more clearly in the production, allowing you to more fully understand and engage with Joe Newman’s clever and thoroughly modern writing. There’s also an interesting richness and realism to the sound of the voices on the track and I’ve just found out why this may be: the chorus features family members of the band on backing vocals.

Despite the obvious contemporary feel to the music, it’s, paradoxically, in some ways quite an old-fashioned song, too. The Actor is a proper story, told through transparent but no less poetic lyrics. The band describe it as “a dreamed up tale of a dream gone wrong”, about an actor who moves to LA and is dragged into a life of drug dealing, and it makes a fascinating listen. 

The video seems to take the viewer somewhere into the timeline of that actor’s failed dream, allowing you a glimpse perhaps of rock bottom. It takes place in one room – what looks like a large and soulless hotel conference room strewn with what could be the aftermath of a party (although something about all of it seems slightly off, producing a subtle dream-like effect). This very cleverly echoes the song itself, which features vocals bathed in reverb, metallic-sounding 80s influenced synth sounds and occasionally off-kilter beats. 

The video opens in silence and the music fades in, with some glitchy changes in volume which don’t feature on the standalone song. A man lies limp on the floor. A woman comes in and is clearly shocked, overcome, unable to accept what has happened. Then the scene moves into a strangely-moving physical interplay between the two characters. This is choreographed very effectively and skilfully; it takes a while to realise that the whole performance is in fact an odd kind of dance, with the male actor somehow manipulating his body while appearing totally unconscious.

It’s now been 10 years since the trio (Joe Newman, Gus Unger-Hamilton, and Thom Green) stormed on to the UK music scene with the determinedly left-field debut album An Awesome Wave. That record and their two subsequent studio albums have sold a total of more than 2 million copies, and their streaming numbers are incomprehensible (more than two and a half billion altogether …) With this video, the band have managed to capture something of their well-established essence visually, but without overdoing it. I can see that it must have been tempting to make a video which simply followed the storyline of the song; or to go the other way and make something entirely obscure or avant-garde; or even to throw out a quickly put together lyric video. But by making this deceptively-straightforward cinematic piece, and allowing two actors to show their skill and interpret the music in a very unique way, alt-J have shown real maturity. They have made something which absolutely complements their music, and stands as a piece of visual art in its own right.

alt-J‘s tour begins in Edinburgh on 5th May and ends at Kingston’s Pryzm in early June. They play four dates at the O2 Brixton, one of which is a live play through of An Awesome Wave to celebrate its 10th anniversary (the full list of dates is below). 

The Actor video was directed and edited by Saskia Dixie (who has previously worked with Nike, About Town and Sinead O’Brien) and was produced by Frankie Willcock at Pundersons Gardens. It features the talents of Lewis Walker and Hannah Mason as the actor and his tormented lover.

Watch the official video to ‘The Author’ here now.









Thu 05 Edinburgh Liquid Rooms (with Assai Records)

Fri 06 Glasgow Barrowland

Sat 07 Glasgow Barrowland

Mon 09 Leeds O2 Academy

Tue 10 Bristol Academy

Thu 12 Nottingham Rock City

Fri 13 Manchester O2 Apollo

Sat 14 Liverpool Jacaranda Records (with Jacaranda Records)

Mon 16 Oxford O2 Academy (with Truck Records)

Tue 17 London O2 Brixton Academy (An Awesome Wave 10th Anniversary Show)

Wed 18 London O2 Brixton Academy

Thu 19 London O2 Brixton Academy

Fri 20 London O2 Brixton Academy

Sun 22 Dublin Olympia Theatre

Mon 23 Dublin Olympia Theatre

Wed 25 Belfast Telegraph Building

Fri 27 Birmingham O2 Academy

Sat 28 Brighton Chalk (with Resident Records)


Thu 07 Kingston Pryzm (with Banquet Records)

Words and Review by PHIL TAYLOR