Album Review: alt-J – An Awesome Wave

By on Wednesday, 30th May 2012 at 12:00 pm
 

“Remember, you heard it here first!” shouts the high and mighty publication. “Remember, they heard it here first!” sighs the blog in return. Can we be honest before I start writing this, as long as it was around the right time, I frankly don’t care. If you’ve switched me on to something new and great, thank you, but there’s a good chance I read it somewhere else first and just passed it by.  I’m glad I’ve got that out of my system, it feels good to release ‘buzz band’ anger from time to time. I suggest you try it next time someone tells you they heard of Django Django first and just check their last.fm to save us all the hassle.

So here we come to another ‘hype band’ and their 2012 effort of a debut record.

A little background perhaps, if you’re not tired by the monotony of press regurgitation. They met in Leeds at university whilst all forging out life paths. They messed around, they played shows under different names and then they got out. They’re ‘a Cambridge band’, having recorded the majority of this record in Cambridge and having lived there since leaving university. Their name makes no logical sense unless you know Mac keyboard shortcuts. They’re called alt-J and in the last 380 days (at time of writing) since their eponymous demo EP, everyone and their cat has laid claim to their folk-step chains.

So, the record. Yes! For music as difficult to describe, it’s surprisingly accessible. In not over-complicating time signatures and instead channelling into our desire to understand each and every layer of any given sonic cake, alt-J have found a formula which can crossover between the simple hip-hop feel of their ‘Intro’ track through to the jumping lines of ‘Breezeblocks’ (video below). Its playful nature crosses between wordplay and illegible wordsmithery as it pulses on. You feel though that even with this kind of atmosphere about their music, the refined madness destined for radio, alt-J are aware that they still exist in a sub-culture. As such, a few interludes appear throughout the record, breaking up the studio-sheened final products with a series of snippets of down time. They’re not exactly organised in the best of ways, but they’re a welcome getaway.

Just like that, you’re back in and it’s slowly but surely back to the layers. For a four-piece, its hard to place where each new layer actually forms from and dissolves away to again but in tracks such as ‘Something Good’, the multitude of ideas presented can seem a bit messy. It’s borderline bipolar as a series of logical yet strange lines are introduced and taken away again. In contrast, ‘Matilda’ is simple, relaxed and welcoming whilst “Ms” is just not very good.

The centrepiece of the record, though, is ‘Fitzpleasure’. It swirls around the pan with acapella vocal lines fused quickly with deeply powerful guitar and synth lines. It makes no sense, but all the same time, does. And that’s what this band do best. That’s the reason everyone wants to claim them. alt-J are the absent madness from modern music whilst also being the calm before the storm within the same record. They’re by no means the messiahs, but they’re onto something. In mixing African influences of complex lines that fit together with the ever-growing British electronic scene and a safe amount of guitar, they’ve created a formula that many are aiming for but few are achieving.

8.5/10

alt-J’s debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ (whose triangles prove impossible to post properly through our Twitter feed so we’re not even bothering to insert them) is out now on Infectious Music.

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TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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