By Francesca Beltran
Truth is, the first time one listens to Alt-J’s debut studio album An Awesome Wave, one isn’t sure of what the hell is going on.
The combination of such a wide range of instruments and music styles not only succeeds in surprising the listener, but initially comes off as a messy ensemble without a definite structure. It certainly takes more than one listening before the album slowly gathers a more rational form and reveals its melodic appeal and quite engaging pop undertones. If anything, An Awesome Wave most definitely triumphs in being completely unpredictable.
The album begins with “Intro”, a melodic song that gives the listener a taste of what’s to come, and shows the band’s enthusiasm for multi-instrumental pieces that are often accompanied by incoherent lyrics (and sounds), generated by Joe Newman’s very peculiar voice in a variety of intonations.
Of the fourteen songs in the album, “Breezeblocks” and “Matilda” undoubtedly stand out as the most logical and commercial melodies that could mostly resemble the sounds of what we would call an “indie rock band.” Admittedly, the three interludes scattered along the album, succeed in giving An Awesome Wave a very nice flow that makes it an easy jump from one weird song to the next.
Regardless of its evident pop influence, fitting the album into one music genre eventually becomes, in one word, impossible. After this very unusual debut, the band, categorized as “alternative indie pop”, may now very easily go on and make up a genre of its own. However, the notion of some that their sound is “innovative” and “avant-garde” has aroused some debate from others of whether this is not in fact just a compilation of MOR tunes. In any case it must be said there are moments along the album when it is true that there is just too much going on.
The band’s curious new name, Alt-J, refers to the command used on a Mac in order to achieve the Greek letter Delta, which in mathematical equations is used to show change. The British quartet released An Awesome Wave on May 25th by Infectious Music and has now successfully positioned itself Top 20 in the UK charts.
By Karma Bertelsen
This contemporary unimpeachable quartet from Leeds, have stormed the music scene with their unique compilation of avant-garde melodies and artistry. Blended together in their debut album An Awesome Wave you will find imaginative instrumental dispositions and eccentric lyrics taken from various inspirations such as films to the capricious corners of their lives. Such is how they came up with the quirky name ‘Alt-J (∆)’ which creates the Greek letter ∆ (delta) when commanded on a Mac keyboard and in a mathematical equation is used to show change.
Recorded raw in sound between a Cambridgeshire basement and a room in Brixton on Garage Band, this album peels away the suspecting present-day worry of concentrating on higher quality sound before creative composition rather than the other way around.
You are welcomed by the opening track ‘Intro’ which presumably would be a brief melodious introduction, lacking of lyrics as most albums seem to have. However, keeping in the bands custom so far, Alt-J have swayed from tradition, creating a track that lasts 00:02:37 with a short paragraph of lyrics shining their vast musicianship. This introductory track swallows you into the world that is An Awesome Wave and ends like a puzzling cliff hanger, leaving you with the ache to hear more.
A couple of tracks down from this you find yourself listening to ‘Breezeblocks’, a most unconventional love song that creates the image of factual love in its awe. No doubt, one of the preferred tracks on this album for most, as the music accompanying the lyrics creates an immense mesh of craze. For those of you who have a slight struggle when it comes to connecting imagination with music, I suggest you check out the overwhelming uniquely shot music video for this song.
Two tracks on and you arrive at my personal favourite ‘Something Good’, a plain poem that repeats five lines throughout the song with a two-line bridge in the middle. What I can make of the lyrics is that the song is a metaphor, a Spanish bullfighter, a ‘Matador’ and his ‘blood-sport’ are possibly being compared to that of a failed past relationship. With such simplicity you’d expect it to bore the hell out of you when really; the combination of changing pitches in voice, melody and uncomplicated lyrics does the opposite and actually soothes you into an inquisitive mindset about what they are describing through the lyrics.
Another popular favourite is ‘Matilda’, in which they credit a quote of lyrics from folk-rock artist, Johnny Flynn’s song ‘the wrote and the writ’, ‘the breath I’ve taken and the one I must to go on’. By far this song contains some of the more powerful compositions of guitar in the album. The soft lyrics and guitar playing caress your ears like cotton floating on air.
The bands far-fetched ability to fuse together so many different musical styles has worked in their chaotic advantage in attracting a wide range of fans all intrigued by this disorientating clutch it has on them. Listening to this album has personally unfolded a whole new wave of musical possibility and is definitely a suggested album to anyone who is adventurous and open to new things.
By Lily Blank
Formed in 2008, Leeds indie four-piece Alt-J have only just released their debut album, An Awesome Wave. They spent two years rehearsing their songs before eventually signing with Infectious in 2011. Having never heard of them before, I listen to it with fresh ears.
I can’t say that I am massively impressed by the first track on the album, creatively titled ‘Intro’. I was just about getting into the ambient feeling of it when the lead vocals (Joe Newman) kicked in, which sounded way too jarring and did not seem to fit with the song at all. It’s not so much Newman’s actual voice but the effects slathered onto it that just seem a little too try hard when the rest of it sounds fairly effortless. The next track, also elegantly titled ‘Interlude I’ is a cappella, and to me is just irritating. The sound of the vocals overpowers the fact that they could be quite lyrically beautiful; “It’s worth knowing / like all good fruit, the balance of life is in / the ripe, and the ruined”.
This seems to be the way with most of the rest of the album. I enjoyed ‘Interlude II’, largely because it was without vocals but also there were some sound effects of the ocean added in which contributed to the ambient feel. The following track ‘Something Good’ also caught my attention as it has a keyboard breakdown (played by Gus Unger-Hamilton) which is somewhat unexpected and beautiful. In my opinion Alt-J should definitely explore a bigger use of the piano/keyboard on their next album. After a couple of listens I also found myself quite keen on the single ‘Tessellate’ as it has quite a funky beat and seems to have a more stripped back sound unlike some other songs, a few of which have the tendency to sound a bit messy.
‘An Awesome Wave’ is certainly an experimental debut, and I’m always up for bands exploring new sounds and techniques in their music. However, for me it seems that Alt-J haven’t got their mix of elements quite right. I put a lot of stock into the vocals of songs, as vocalists literally are the voice of the band and this one just isn’t really for me. It is however a confident debut and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future. They can be caught live at Reading and Leeds festival this bank holiday weekend, with a full UK tour commencing near the end of October this year.