Alt-J – An Awesome Wave – Review

Triangles are my favourite shape.

Album of 2012?There is something innately hipsterish about the fact that My New Favourite Band are technically called ‘Δ’ aka the delta symbol for mathematical change. For words they use the keyboard shortcut for it on a mac – Alt + J. Combined with a somewhat anti-image style, it would be easy to slip into a pre-judging outlook. This all stops about 1:20 into the first song, ‘Intro’, on this, their debut album, ‘An Awesome Wave’ as what can only be described as a musical explosion erupts into your ears. The album never lets up and the end result is a record far beyond the output of almost any other band today. Album of 2012? If it isn’t, then something’s wrong with the world.

One of the first things noticable about Alt-J is that they sound like no-one. They have such a unique sound, that I hate trying to describe them to people to try and get them to listen. The only conceivable similarities I can hear are The XX, in the way that they have just turned up with a complete and utterly individual style, and Radiohead. I do not compare a band to Radiohead lightly, but Alt-J definitely deserve it for the way their music is revolutionary, incredibly complex, but also beautifully heartfelt and real.

Alt-J are also without any specific genre to describe them. They bring together elements from all over the place and it’s these combinations that make the sound so great, from the almost folky guitar of ‘Matilda’, the plainchant that introduces ‘Tessellate’ to the dubstep-esque roar of Fitzpleasure, it all fuses together to create something astounding. Each song is a perfect construction, meticulously crafted and well able to stand on its own. This doesn’t affect the album as a whole at all (unlike The XX’s album, which I still can’t listen the whole way through), as it rises and falls perfectly, with crafty little interludes being effective ‘palate cleansers’ for the next round of brilliant songs.

A definite shout out has to go to the drumming. It might just be that I’m a drummer, but Thom Green’s stickwork is a major highlight. What first struck me as pretty cool drum machine work was then blown away by the revelation that the sound I was hearing was upturned pots and pans. the layers of rhythm are perfect, seen in the ingenius part in ‘Tessellate’ with half a bar of runs of 3 and then half in standard 4 as the main drumming pattern. It is fresh and unique while providing the perfect kind of accompaniment to the unique melodies and harmonies of the other 3. Thom’s style is so brilliant it’s impossible to imagine how the music could work with crashes, rides or hi-hats.

Furthermore singer Joe Newman is clearly a singular talent. At first listen his voice is incredibly weird, seemingly high pitched yelps with inaudible lyrics. This view doesn’t really change, it just becomes natural, the voice is totally unique and (with the aid of the lyric sheet) the words are also amazing. I strongly recommend reading the comments left by the band on the soundcloud stream (above) as they give you a great insight into the meaning of each song. The style is brilliant, from the creepiness of ‘Breezeblocks’ – ‘She may contain the urge to run away so hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks’ to the cinematic ‘Bloodflood’ – ‘Slaps the sea-O-double M-O-N. Tide out, tide in, a flood of blood to the heart and the fear slipstreams.’ 

That last song is actually about getting happy slapped on Southampton Common by the Mandela Boys, which is sort of awesome, because it means that this astounding band have roots in my home city, but then its not exactly a good sign that this happens here. Regardless, I’m counting it because Alt-J are a much better local representative than the last one, Craig David.

You may have noticed I’ve been refraining from embedding youtube videos, and this is for two reasons, 1)I think the album is best heard in its entirety to show the scope of their sound, and 2) I can’t just post my favourites, as they keep expanding. I will however post two now, (and one later) because I think there are two songs that you can’t not hear in your life. The first, ‘Tessellate’ is a perfect epitome of the Alt-J style, and also their current single. The second song, ‘Fitzpleasure’ is the song that convinced me of their genius. It never settles into one thing, and is just an explosion of raw creative energy that makes every other band look boring and bland. If you aren’t playing it fucking loud, it should be a crime.

This is the point in the review where I find negatives, point out the weaknesses of the record. Don’t get me wrong, I can normally nitpick at anything to find flaws. But here I actually can’t. This is a perfect album in every single sense. Every part, every instrument, every melody, every single beat, is utterly flawless. I can’t even make the stupid joke point ‘the only downside is that it ends’ (If you write reviews and write this then Fuck Off), because the length of the album is perfect too, it ends just when it should, enough that you feel completely fulfilled, but also want to play again from the start.

So to end this, I’m going to leave you with the last song on the album (because ‘Handmade’ is a SECRET SONG and you iTunes users would know this if you bought the bloody CD, (which incidentally has the coolest pop out thing and lyrics sheet)), ‘Taro’, because I think it is the best written song of the 21st century. If that is the highest of overhype, so be it, but every single thing about this song is leagues ahead of any other band. The lyrics are ridiculously moving, covering the death of legendary war photographer Robert Capa (check out his photos, they are incredible) of a landmine, and its connection to his photographer partner Gerda Taro who also died in war. Musically it’s one of a kind, the verses oozing care, and then a roar of pain through the only successful fusion of Indian bhangra style (in place of a sitar or other asian instrument, its riff is actually a roll of electrical tape fingertapping the neck of a guitar) into western music that doesn’t cheapen the song, instead reaching a pinnacle only the greatest songs can ever reach. Perfect in every way.

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4 thoughts on “Alt-J – An Awesome Wave – Review

  1. heds777 says:

    Great review of a brilliant album. Your right it is so hard to compare (in my review I went with the Wild Beasts but that’s not really accurate either), which is great, there are bits of everything. I love to see a band trying to sound like themselves rather than another said band.

  2. […] love Alt-J. I’ve got no shame in saying that, when I bought their debut in May and reviewed it I said it was going to be album of the year, and so far nothing else has come along to prove me […]

  3. […] and no, this isn’t the last time they’ll feature in this list. I don’t need to reiterate my love of this band, nor do I need to rub it in that they won the Mercury Prize. Let’s just say this is a great […]

  4. […] 1 – Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (full review here) […]

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