Review: Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

Alt-J are the ultimate hipsters. While I write the term ‘hipster’, I have a cringe on my face but, at first glance, they fit the stereotype. Alt-J is the key command for the delta sign (Δ – a triangle*) on a Mac keyboard – you can’t find a hipper name. In photos, they refuse to have their faces showing – maybe looking at the camera is too ‘mainstream’.

*(For those unaware, triangles are the chosen shape of hipsters)

However, I may be a little harsh by throwing the ‘hipster’ term around so liberally. The peculiar race is known to have a love of the past and everything retro but Alt-J are not like this; so much current music just re-shapes past sounds, yet Alt-J seem to have created a whole new sound, codenamed ‘folkstep’. It describes their songs well; they are sort of peaceful dance music with acoustic sections. This is fresh and different, something a hipster will never be, no matter how hard they try.

An Awesome Wave is Alt-J‘s debut album, yet it seems to mature and well-rounded to be their first shot. It is all built upon and around the drum beat. Thom Green (the drummer, obviously) drums like he’s a machine; he is the beating heart of the songs. On top of this are the twangy guitar rhythms, synth tunes, and multi-layered harmonics to complete the sound. In songs such as ‘Fitzpleasure‘, the dubstep part of ‘folkstep’ becomes quite clear, with the wobble bass reverberating in the background, constantly supported by the tight drum line. This is topped by harmonics that mirror those of Django Django and, in all, something unique is created.

Alt-J – Fitzpleasure

Alt-J made their album available to stream three weeks ago (That was at the time of writing – by the time this is published, it was probably about two months ago). With the songs, they provided a quick insight into the lyrics meanings (while it may take the skill of interpretation out, it does make my life a lot easier). The most interesting of these stories is, possibly, ‘Dissolve Me‘. It is about one of the band member’s bedtime routine with their mum. Together, they would describe a day at the beach, and the band member would fall asleep to the mum making sea noises. It is such an amazing song- the story behind it just adds another dimension. Whenever they sing the line “She makes the sound, the sound the sea makes, to calm me down“, it is a peaceful break, one in which slipping into a dreamy realm is promoted, much like the sounds did for the child of the story. It is like a poem, something magical.

Alt-J – Dissolve Me

The album contains three ‘interlude’ tracks that are around one minute long, quite an unusual feature. The first is called ‘Ripe & Ruin‘, and is just vocals, one long harmony. The later are called ‘Guitar‘ and ‘Piano‘. They provide a rest in the album. ‘Guitar‘ is literally just a guitar line, with the sound of a road and some voices faintly drifting in from the background. ‘Piano‘ is similar; it is like a fifty second duet between a piano and a voice. You could quite easily listen to the album and not notice it, yet it’s so beautiful.

An Awesome Wave surprised me. I expected to like it, but it really blew me away. It is special. For a debut album, Alt-J couldn’t have done better. They are an exciting band, which is a rarity among today’s mundane mainstream music.

9/10

Advertisements