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

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This Week’s New Band: Pale Seas

I am just taking a quick break from my revision to write this post. I am still writing up the Slow Club gig, I am struggling a bit, but I am pleased so far. I only have about two weeks of exams left, so I should be back to full-time writing soon.

This week’s new band is called Pale Seas. They are so good! I had to take a break from important revision to write about them. I first heard them only about thirty minutes ago. I nearly didn’t press play, but clicking that button was the best decision of today. I heard them on Flying With Anna, and since then have listened to all the songs I can find (that number is still only six, but I have listened to several versions of some).  You can download their current single (released on March 8th) ‘Something or Nothing’ with its B-side ‘Amour’ for free of their Facebook page.

Their music is dreamy folk, with magical, glorious harmonics.  I am in awe a little now. The music is so beautiful; the acoustic guitars, vocals, and other little twinkly sounds just combine into something amazing. They give me that feeling inside, the one that great music gives you, almost a feeling of euphoria.

This Week’s New Band: Big Scary

I am very sorry for the lack of posts recently; I am still at school and have had to put work before writing. I am in the process of writing new content that should be going up over the next few weeks. I also apologise for not doing a ‘This Week’s New Band’ post last week, I did start to write one, but it did not get finished in time so I just discarded it. I will try to be more reliable in the future and keep a steady stream of posts coming. Anyway, enough of me apologising and more music related scrawl.

The band that I found this week is called Big Scary. They are a duo from Melbourne and their music ranges from indie folk to a sort of garage rock. I first heard their song ‘The Apple Song’ last night and I quite liked it but wasn’t instantly won over. Then I listened to a few more songs and realised how amazing they are. They released their debut album, called Vacation, in Australia last year but it has not yet been released on iTunes so I am guessing it hasn’t been released in the UK either.

Big Scary’s music is generally indie pop though there are some rockier songs and some acoustic folk-sounding songs. I am not too keen on some songs, like ‘Tuesday is Rent Day’, but others, such as ‘Thinking About You’, are absolutely amazing. I think it is worth checking out the song ‘Microwave Pizza’ because, as well as being generally brilliant, it is the only song I have heard Jo Syme, the drummer, sing in and her voice is beautiful.

New Veronica Falls Song – My Heart Beats

Veronica Falls are one of my favourite bands. They released their debut self-titled album last year, and it was in my top albums of last year. Yesterday they posted a new song, called ‘My Heart Beats’, on Soundcloud. The album seems to be obsessed with death, but this new song seems cheery and rather joyous. If you are having some winter blues then Veronica Falls may have provided the perfect solution.

The Cheek: Going In For The Kill

I am not normally a massive fan of cover songs, original versions generally tend to be better, but recently I started listening to a cover of La Roux’s ‘In For The Kill’ by The Cheek. I don’t really like La Roux that much, but the cover is really good.

The song gets built up really nicely, starting off with a simple beat, and then more sounds get added into it. I prefer their voices as well, and the addition of guitars is a good touch; La Roux’s version is solely electro. The lyrics aren’t great, but that is not The Cheek’s fault.

It is a good cover; The Cheek make it their own instead of mindlessly copying the original, and it is a massive improvement. Well worth the four minutes and twenty seconds it takes to listen to it.

Best Coast: Instant Rock n’ Roll, Just Add Cats

Recently Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino said that she no longer wanted to be known as the cat-loving stoner, or something along those lines. I love Best Coast, but that is a pretty hard image to shake when one of your music videos features loads of cats getting high on catnip.

Best Coast are still awesome, no matter what image people have of them. They are going to release an album later this year, and it should be insane. I think ‘Crazy For You’ was one of the best albums of 2010, and I have been listening to them a lot recently. I really love surf rock, and they have to be one of the best surf rock bands. All I want to do is kick back and listen to Best Coast.

Bethany is going out with Nathan from the Wavves and they have done some great collaborations, like ‘Nodding Off’. They make a great pair, both mental but brilliant.

Tokyo Police Club: The Two Albums That I Could Listen To Forever

If you have read my About page, you should know that I love Tokyo Police Club. I wrote a post about how much I love Slow Club a few days ago, but I love TPC just as much. Last year, I spent about three months listening to ‘Champ’ twice a day. Both of their most recent albums I can listen to non-stop without getting bored, and I’m always in the right mood to listen to them. They’re brilliant!

My love for Tokyo Police Club started at the end of 2010; ‘Champ’ had just been released and I couldn’t get enough of it. I had heard them before, but I never realised how good they were. I fell in love with them again a few months ago when I finally pulled out ‘Elephant Shell’, and, yet again, I listened to it about three times a day. They are writing material for a new album at the moment, and that also means a UK tour. That would make my year, if they release the album this year, and probably the majority of the next.

Choosing my favourite song would be a near-impossible task. I could tell you all the songs I really like, but I would just be handing you the track lists of their albums. To tell the truth, I would rather tell you which one of my parents I prefer.