Archive | August, 2013

(∆) Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

1 Aug


Alt-J is a British Indie quartet named after the Mac command ∆ and this is their debut full length album. Heralded by many critics as the next Radiohead, An Awesome Wave is a very eclectic album, albeit quirky at times.

An Awesome Wave at its base is an electronic rock album that blends in aspects of folk and psychedelic rock and sung with vocalist Joe Newman’s nasal voice. They follow a standard guitar, drums, keyboard aspect, but their unique sound is incorporated by having some of the songs missing either the bassline, and/or the bass drum. The band claims this sound came about from practicing in their university dorms, and the bass would have been too much of a disturbance. That is not to say that the bass is missing from the entire album. Some songs like Fitzpleasure has a thick synthesized bassline that overpowers the rest of the mix, while Tessellate features your standard bass guitar lines.

Despite having a standard band setup, there’s a wide variety of sounds that go into play. While a lot of the diversity in the various sounds is largely done through they keyboardist, if you watch some of the live performances, it shows that he isn’t the entire backbone of the band. For a band that’s an odd mixture of electronic rock, it features some guitar playing that isn’t really standard for the genre, this is where the folk rock aspect comes into play. There’s a large bit of twang involved in some of the guitar playing, and much of the guitar work is fingerpicked. The second guitarist is incorporated in quite interesting ways when it’s present in the songs. The second guitarist is largely there to add more texture to the songs to add more diversity with what they keyboards are already doing. This is all played magnificently over the drums which play some very interesting beats which can at times make you think is a drum machine, but if you see it live, it’s all done with your standard drum set.

I think the first thing people will tend to notice about Alt-J is the quirkyness of the vocals. Some of the songs just feature Newman’s voice  just being a nasal pitch which some might find unappealing. Then there’s a few scenes in the songs where the other members join in with singing with strange vocal chants likes “please don’t go please don’t go, I love you so I love you so” in Breezeblocks and the “tralalala” opening in Fitzpleasure, or the acapella interlude, leaves some listeners scratching their heads wondering what the hell they’re listening to. This is also one of the few times you’ll hear a sniff used strategically in a song.

Lyrically, this is not the album’s strongpoint, but as you stroll through the album, you’ll realize that the lyrics aren’t the actual focus of the song and are really there to add texture to the mix. If you tried to decipher the lyrics, you’ll be wondering why they’re singing about triangles being their favorite shape. There will also be times where you won’t even know what the singer is saying.

For many, An Awesome Wave is going to be an album where people leave loving the album, or one of those where you’ll be wondering what the hell you just heard and feeling that there was something that you just didn’t get.

Grungie’s rating 5/5