Alt-J - An Awesome Wave
An abundance of Triangles. Art school heritage. Songs with names like 'Fitzpleasure'. You'd be forgiven that Alt-J were one of those fictional bands that troll social networks making satirical remarks about their marketing plans. Yet, pleasingly, the quartet transcend their early hype-wave caused by run-away smash 'Breezeblocks' with An Awesome Wave, a stunning debut that deserves at very least a cursory listen from any music fan; even if you were into them before they were cool.
The first thing that stands out above all else on this collection of 13 tracks is Joe Newman's voice. It's not just good, it's versatile - not just in range, but in character, timbre, texture, more like a sonic brush for painting soundscapes than a bodily output for melody. It's striking, but of course this would mean nothing without a similarly tactful and evocative instrumental backing, which it has, in absolute bloody spades.
Gwil, Gus and Tom, that is; the rhythm contingent are either so cocksure and/or technically proficient that their mood dances from song-to-song between melancholy, folky pop ('Estocada') to buzzing, crunching and synth-led ('Fitzpleasure') and back again to the almost hip-hop esque (aforementioned 'Breezeblocks'). It's a wild ride, but not once does the dynamic feel forced or a novelty, more an utterly natural course for such wildly inventive musicians to chart.
And that's to say nothing of the emotive aspect of the thing. There isn't a single weak track on the album, and what's more, some are particularly poignant whilst others remember that it can all get a bit heavy without the occasional cheekier track, and it's pitched perfectly over the 40 minutes. Outstandingly, the lyrical content also straddles the fine line between pretentious and eccentric, further shoring up the foundations of what must surely be an insurmountable debut effort.
I'd hate for Alt-J to become a victim of their own success. but it really does feel like this is 'their' album, so utterly consonant with their own nature, so coherent but varied, and despite the borderline overly-catchy hooks of certain tracks ('Matilda', 'Tessellate') An Awesome Wave has enough depth to reward repeated listens. It might be more the kind of album that burns searingly into your brain for a few weeks and then you let go for a good period of time; an achievement of this nature though, from a young band on their first album, makes any longevity issues utterly academic. Alt-pop has a stunning new face, even if it's kind of a clichéd shape.
Purchase and listen
Out photographer Skye Portman snapped Mercury Award winning Alt-J at Shepherds Bush Empire, London [read more]
405 photographer Eleonora Collini headed down to the beautiful Somerset House to snap The Temper Trap, Alt-J and Chet Faker. [read more]