Alt-J (∆) – An Awesome Wave
by Matthew Yau
I can tell you now, the hipsters are pissed off! Since the release of their debut album An Awesome Wave, ∆ (the ultimate hipster symbol which can also be found on a Mac keyboard) have exploded on to the scene and managed a successful nineteenth on the UK album charts. It’s an album that’s been much anticipated since they signed with Infectious Records in 2011 as we’ve only had one EP to listen to since then. Now that it’s here, it’s time to immerse yourself in it.
There’s often talk about genre with art and music; Alt-J are no different as An Awesome Wave has clear influences from folk, pop and art-rock. People often say that genre has no significance but it is a good way of contextualising a sound. In this case, it can used to describe ∆’s eclectic song-writing.
Before the album release, fans were treated to more the pop-centric structures of ‘Tessellate’, ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Matilda’ which all have the required hooks to make accessible along with enough compositional variation to keep them fresh. But the album begins with an intro that is both progressive and atmospheric; the kind of track that says “get ready to go on a winding, alluring journey”. From the piano-based ‘Intro’, you are then led to an interlude (the first of three) so you can enjoy the distinctive sound of Joe Newman’s voice through an a capella.
Tunes tend swell and warp whilst being held together by the lure of Newman’s vocals but there’s also a sense of narrative in the album; one split into three chapters which get progressively more experimental. Chapter two holds the bulk of the responsibility with five varying tracks from the melancholy of ‘Ms’ to the rich depth of ‘Fitzpleasure’. The latter is probably the highlight of the album (I say this with very little confidence!) with its dark, grimy bass, trebly vocals and asymmetric drum-work.
Having already had a wealth of albums made to cuddle your ears all day long (Django Django’s debut and Yeasayer’s Fragrant World come to mind), ∆ deserve the recognition they now have. The album doesn’t really have any deadwood – a feat the most accomplished bands seldom achieve – and they produce some hypnotic harmonies that don’t seem to weather. Sometimes good artists give you the urge to demand a second album, but a great album leaves you lost in a world you never want to leave. If it looks I’m drowning in an awesome wave, don’t save me.
NB: On the stream, you can find ∆’s description of each track but as always, all art is open to interpretation and each track will mean something slightly different for everyone. Also, it says a lot about this album that I want to review it before the awesome time I had Bestival (where I also saw Alt-J).