Coming Out of the Woodwork

Next up in the annals of creepy-cool music: Alt-J's "The Gospel of John Hurt." A stand-out track from their latest album, This is All Yours, it alludes to one of the most infamous scenes in film—the "chestburster" scene from Alien.

Kane (John Hurt), dyspeptic in Alien
Did I forget to post a spoiler alert? Sorry. But one or two listens to the song's understated lyrics gives it away: Oh, coming out of the woodwork / chest bursts like John Hurt / Coming out of the wood. 

In an interview with The Guardian, Alt-J's singer and guitarist Joe Newman clearly credits the movie reference, saying "that scene has stayed with me...why not write about those moments you're moved by the most?" From this, you might expect the entire song to be an overt homage to Ridley Scott's definitive sci-fi/horror break out, but Alt-J's not a band to be quite that overt. The title alone is a slippery collage of the biblical Gospel of John, a fictional, extraterrestrial gospel of actor John Hurt, and, perhaps, an unexplained reference to the instructional DVD The "Gospel Guitar" of Mississippi John Hurt. Choose your theme (or themes); it's a unsettling 5 minutes and 16 seconds of free association, no matter how you slice it.

Ripley, packing heat
Lyrics aside, the track adds tension through layers of effects that worm their way into the nightmare. Phrases trail off into digitized hiss and snippets seemingly sampled from Alien. One sounds like the infernal squeak of baby alien moments after its bloody birth; another could be Ripley saying "come ON" through fight-or-flight earnestness (though I can't pinpoint the scene, try as I might). All of these textural details contribute to a composition that's as unnerving as the alien's amoral appetite, or the android Ash's spectacular meltdown. 

Another spoiler, but if you haven't seen it by now, you really should get around to it.


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