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From NSFW Crisps To Roald Dahl: 20 Of Alt-J’s Most Baffling Lyrics Decoded

Alt-J’s weird, wonderful and downright saucy lyrics can be a touch baffling if you don’t happen to have an encyclopaedia and a second year English Literature degree reading list close to hand. As we wait for the band’s third album, let’s have a go at decoding 20 of their most perplexing moments.

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1“Turn you inside out/and lick you like a crisp packet” – 'Every Other Freckle'

<i>“Turn you inside out/and lick you like a crisp packet”</i> – 'Every Other Freckle'
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“Turn you inside out/and lick you like a crisp packet” – 'Every Other Freckle'. Notorious fans of savoury snacks, here Alt-J use crisps as salty sexual metaphor. When asked which flavour would be their favourite for bag-licking, Gus Unger-Hamilton told NME: “If it was a band decision, it would have to be a packet of Salt and Vinegar McCoys – they’re the best crisps, really.”

2“To be a deer in Nara” – 'Nara'

<i>“To be a deer in Nara”</i> – 'Nara'
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“To be a deer in Nara” – 'Nara' Nara Park is a place in Japan where deer are allowed to roam freely, as they are considered sacred. Three tracks on Alt-J’s second album ‘This Is All Yours’ reference the scenic spot.

3“In your snatch fits pleasure/broom shaped pleasure” – 'Fitzpleasure'

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“In your snatch fits pleasure/broom shaped pleasure” – 'Fitzpleasure' This rather rude line references Hubert Selby Jr’s 1964 cult novel Last Exit To Brooklyn, specifically the story of Tralala, a prostitute who is raped with a broom during a graphic passage of the book.

4“Iris swims quietly beside me” – 'Warm Foothills'

<i>“Iris swims quietly beside me”</i> – 'Warm Foothills'
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“Iris swims quietly beside me” – 'Warm Foothills' ‘This Is All Yours’ track ‘Warm Foothills’ lifts snippets from John Bayley’s biography of his wife, the brilliant British author Iris Murdoch. This line in particular references a swimming trip the two once took.

5“Hunger of the pine” – 'Hunger of the Pine'

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“Hunger of the pine” – 'Hunger of the Pine' Far from being a track about a particularly hungry tree, the Miley Cyrus-sampling first single from ‘This Is All Yours’ is about the pain of pining for a loved one. All our best wishes to any starving shrubs out there, however.

6“Be your Minpin/and borrower of handsome trivia” – 'Every Other Freckle'

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“Be your Minpin/and borrower of handsome trivia” – 'Every Other Freckle' Children’s literature plays a big part in the band’s lyrics. This line doffs its cap at two classic kids books – Roald Dahl’s posthumous 1991 story The Minpins and Mary Norton’s 1952 The Borrowers.

7“A canopy of red billed quelea/passed over the blue” – 'Pusher'

<i>“A canopy of red billed quelea/passed over the blue”</i> – 'Pusher'
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“A canopy of red billed quelea/passed over the blue” – 'Pusher' The quelea is a favourite of Alt-J, getting shout-outs in not just ‘Pusher’, but ‘Bloodflood Pt. II’. For those not quite up to speed with every single species of animal, the quelea is a small African bird and the red-billed kind is the world’s most populous, with roughly 10 billion of them out there.

8“Now dissolve me/two tabs on your tongue” – 'Dissolve Me'

<i>“Now dissolve me/two tabs on your tongue”</i> – 'Dissolve Me'
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“Now dissolve me/two tabs on your tongue” – 'Dissolve Me' Um, not so much of a tricky one this, especially when you consider the artwork from this track taken from debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’, which sees someone with what we assume are two tabs of acid emblazoned with the band’s Delta logo on their tongue.

9“Une immense Esperance a traverse la terre/une immense Esperance a traverse ma peur” – 'Hunger of the Pine'

Jordan Hughes/NME
“Une immense Esperance a traverse la terre/une immense Esperance a traverse ma peur” – 'Hunger of the Pine' This line roughly translates as “A great hope has traversed the earth / A great hope has crossed my fear”, and is nabbed from 19th century French poet, Alfred de Musset.

10“Please don’t go/I’ll eat you whole/I love you so” – 'Breezeblocks'

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“Please don’t go/I’ll eat you whole/I love you so” – 'Breezeblocks' Another children’s literature reference, this somewhat sinister fade out is a re-appropriation of Maurice Sendak’s glorious 1963 picturebook, Where The Wild Things Are. We definitely don’t remember it being this creepy the first time round though.

11“Just like Johnny Flynn said ‘the breath I’ve taken and the one I must’” – 'Matilda'

<i>“Just like Johnny Flynn said ‘the breath I’ve taken and the one I must’”</i> – 'Matilda'
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“Just like Johnny Flynn said ‘the breath I’ve taken and the one I must’” – 'Matilda' This is a direct quoting from British folk singer Johnny Flynn’s song ‘The Wrote And The Writ’, from his 2008 debut ‘A Larum’. A collaboration between Flynn and Unger-Hamilton is now apparently in the works.

12“This is from Matilda”

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“This is from Matilda” – 'Matilda' The rest of the song is a typically opaque interpretation of Luc Besson’s 1994 film Leon, but – spoiler alert – this is the last line that Jean Reno’s character says before the film’s gruesome and emotional end.

13“Little did I know then/that the Mandela Boys soon become Mandela Men”

Ed Miles
“Little did I know then/that the Mandela Boys soon become Mandela Men” – 'Bloodflood pt. II' Frontman Joe Newman has spoken often about the Mandela Boys, a notorious gang in his hometown of Southampton who regularly scared the living shit out of him when he was younger.

14“To Capa, to Capa Capa dark after nothing/re-united with his leg/and with you Taro” – 'Taro'

<i>“To Capa, to Capa Capa dark after nothing/re-united with his leg/and with you Taro”</i> – 'Taro'
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“To Capa, to Capa Capa dark after nothing/re-united with his leg/and with you Taro” – 'Taro' A poetic rendering of the love between war photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro, this line deals with the death of Capa, who stepped on a landmine and died during the First Indochina War, to be reunited in death with Taro, who perished 17 years previously during the Spanish Civil War.

15“Oh coming out of the woodwork/chest bursts like John Hurt” – 'The Gospel of John Hurt'

<i>“Oh coming out of the woodwork/chest bursts like John Hurt”</i> – 'The Gospel of John Hurt'
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“Oh coming out of the woodwork/chest bursts like John Hurt” – 'The Gospel of John Hurt' If you’re seen 1979’s Alien, then you’ll know exactly what Alt-J are talking about here: the gory moment when a monster springs out of the stomach of John Hurt’s character Kane.

16“Madator/estocada you’re my blood sport” – 'Something Good'

Richard Johnson/NME
“Madator/estocada you’re my blood sport” – 'Something Good' Estocada is the name given to a matador’s final sword thrust – the one with which he intends to kill the bull. However, it’s the matador, rather than the beastie, who carks it here.

17“Escher/wanna draw shit” – 'Intro (This Is All Yours)'

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“Escher/wanna draw shit” – 'Intro (This Is All Yours)' A hat tip to the legendary, baffling work of M.C Escher, the Dutch graphic artist whose prints and drawings trick the brain, tessellating into infinite patterns – much like the warped musical layering of Alt-J themselves.

18“Slash slash/assassin de la police” – 'Bloodflood Pt. II'

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“Slash slash/assassin de la police” – 'Bloodflood Pt. II' Often misheard as “that’s the sound of the police”, this isn’t a cut and dry KRS One reference. “Assassin de la police” translates into ‘killer of the police’ and slips sinisterly into the band’s song about local gangs.

19“Lou Lou/let the cover girls sing” – 'Every Other Freckle'

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“Lou Lou/let the cover girls sing” – 'Every Other Freckle' A sweet nod to the Velvet Underground’s Lou Reed and his 1972 solo track ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, this Joe Newman’s slightly more politically correct rendering of the “and the coloured girls go/doo doo doo” line.

20“For the future tributes/to Thom Sonny Green” – 'Buffalo'

Matt Salacuse/NME
“For the future tributes/to Thom Sonny Green” – 'Buffalo' Alt-J’s collaboration with a capella folk harmony group Mountain Man for the 2012 film Silver Linings Playbook features a strange reference to the band’s own drummer and his eventual demise. Cheerful.
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