alt-J is a band long recognized for its music videos. My first-ever introduction to the band was when a friend recommended me not their music, but to their music video for “Breezeblocks” and try to figure out what was going on. The band hasn’t been afraid to get strange with their videos over the past few years, and that holds true with this week’s “3WW,” an imaginative virtual translation of the pain of denied love.
The video opens in darkness, and then shades of golden-brown light begin filtering into view in the form of geometric shapes. At the same time, a single wandering guitar guides us into the soft percussive rhythm that soon becomes the backbone of the song. The sound is endlessly soft and exploratory, and it evokes waking up in the morning or stepping into the light out of a dark room.
Equally intriguing are the corresponding images. The rapidly flashing shapes from the very beginning set the tone for the rest of the video, which looks like it takes its animation from some computer program or video game. The constant flashing and switching between images makes it hard to discern any concrete plot, but the images themselves still suggest distinct feelings and senses of meaning. Many of the images recur — a man walking into a room to meet another person, a pinkish shape floating upward into a near-cloudless sky, a field of grass with a single tree beginning to bloom — and convey a sense of continuation, of nature taking on meaning in an unnatural world.
The succession of images repeats several times in the same order, and for all the hope that comes across in the bright landscapes, like a beautiful dock and a road through green fields, the song definitely carries a strong element of sadness, of hope lost. The figure walking alone toward the person in the room never reaches them; the series always ends with the final note of an object or figure, lying dead in the middle of a road. I took this as an indication of the futility of the speaker’s love, but the video is constructed in a way that lends itself to personal interpretations, rather than a clear narrative. No matter the interpretation, though, “3WW” is a beautiful example of how a music video doesn’t need a plot or even a live cast of people in order to convey something deep, meaningful and complete.