The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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June 28, 2013

Joe Hadsall: Steve Gleason leads to musical discovery

JOPLIN, Mo. — Last week's column about Steve Gleason, Lou Gehrig's disease and tacky Atlanta shock jocks resulted in the discovery of some great music.

The whole flap started last week when Gleason wrote that column for Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback. Before that controversy ever began, Gleason wrote about a number of things dealing with his career, his life with ALS and other trivia.

When emulating King's MMQB style, he devoted a "nerdness" section to music and mentioned alt-J and Lord Huron.

I gave both a listen -- while Lord Huron was a bit folksy for me, alt-J has turned into one of my favorite discoveries of the year so far.

Here's how Gleason described it in that column: "Alt-J's album 'An Awesome Wave' is a detour from music I typically gravitate toward. They have some hard-to-access elements (non-traditional vocals, odd sequences), but there is enough that is accessible to pull me in for more listening. Now, I can't stop playing it."

Those two things he noticed, the non-traditional vocals and odd sequences, are exactly what made me decide to dive in. After picking up the album, I have listened to it pretty solidly for the past couple of weeks.

It's addicting. It's a unique mix of harmonies, ambient patters and intricate rhythms. Vocalist Joe Newman is probably the most polarizing vocalist I've heard since Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock -- Newman has a nasal, under-enunciated voice that sounds like he got dared to impersonate the hookers from "Full Metal Jacket." But it blends so perfectly with the music.

The album is a solid work that draws listeners in pretty quickly. I got to watch exactly how fast as I was listening while The Lovely Paula Hadsall was in Geek Central with me. I played "Breezeblocks" and saw her get hooked pretty quickly. Her first comment was a "What is that?" spoken in the same tone she uses when she's not sure something on the floor is a hairball from the cat or a dropped piece of food.

But she quickly got into the album's mood, and asked me to burn it for her. Her take on alt-J is a little different than mine: While I listen to melodies first, she pays attention to words. But she'd never heard anything like this band before. Newman's vocals combined with the other harmonies threw her a bit -- she said it was like Cee-Lo Green mixed with Gregorian chants.

"Their lyrics are kind of disturbing sometimes, but I get sucked into the music before I get a chance to think about the words," she said. "Or more to the point understand what they are saying. The melodies are hypnotic. The harmonies completely engulf you."

Alt-J is not for everyone, I'll admit. But most of the music we like isn't for everyone. I got pretty lucky with her -- TLP loves a lot of the same music I do, and she thinks the way I geek out over composition is attractive. I shouldn't have been surprised by her liking alt-J, but it still made me smile to burn that album for her.

Must-listens: "Breezeblocks," "Taro," "Dissolve Me" and "Bloodflood." That isn't the only band I've been listening to lately. Here's a bunch of other albums worthy of varying degrees of geeking out:

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