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Alt-J - An Awesome Wave (Album Review)

Wednesday, 29 August 2012 Written by Emma Dodds
Alt-J - An Awesome Wave (Album Review)

I first heard of this band in about May of this year, listening to the radio and hearing the band's name for the first time. I was a bit confused, thinking I'd heard it wrong, but no. It was in fact Alt-J. The meaning behind this name is actually the sign for the Greek symbol Delta, which is a little triangular shape when it appears on screen when pressing these keys into your computer keyboard - however, before you get excited, this only works on Mac computers. Sorry Microsoft users.

ImageSo the album kicks off with an aptly named 'Intro'. It starts with this really nice but slightly melancholy piano part which is then backed up by guitar. As a pianist, I always have a great appreciation for piano usage when done well, and this is done well. It builds up in layers, with the drums adding more depth. It's actually in the same bracket as The XX's brilliant 'Intro', which seems to pop up every now and again in very poignant places, especially on sad real-life TV programs. Both incredibly lovely, but sad. Halfway through the track it sounds as though it's coming to an end, but then it comes alive again with a slight oriental twist, punching through the solemn and calm atmosphere that the first half just created for us. Don't dismiss this song purely because it is "just an intro", you'd regret it. It's fantastic.

This album has been done in a similar way to how Coldplay did their most recent album, 'Mylo Xyloto', in a sort of one-track kind of thing, so most of the songs are linked together and it's really meant to be listened to all in one go. So after 'Intro' comes 'Interlude 1', and it carries on from it's predecessor, but completely acapella. It's pretty clever, and it really shows off the unique vocal abilities of the lead singer, Joe Newman. I can't think of anyone else at the moment in the music industry who has a similar voice to that of Newman. It sort of takes you aback, but it's so intriguing you just have to keep on listening.

Then comes 'Tessellate', probably my favourite song on the album. Again, it leads straight into it, with the root chord of 'Tessellate' being taken from the last note that they sing in 'Interlude 1'. Tessellate, the word itself, means the way in which shapes fit together, so it's already quite intriguing. The song starts off with piano chords, and a drum beat that sounds almost mechanical, and it's perfectly in time which leads me to think it is either drum machine or the drummer, Thom Green, is incredibly talented. The guitar riff is also worth a mention, really clever and catchy. The chorus starts with the line "Triangles are my favourite shape", which could be a nod to the Delta sign once again. The chorus is not like a generic chorus, as there's not actually much change to distinguish between the end of the verse and the start of the chorus, apart from a bit more rhythm with the drums/machine. The last line of the chorus is "Let's tessellate", and now I finally get what he's on about... Think about it... The way in which shapes "fit together"... There you go. This is by far my favourite song on the album.

'Breezeblocks' was the first song I ever heard by Alt-J, so I will forever love it for hooking me into this band. It lulls you into a false sense of security with the calm and relaxed beginning bars, which are mainly Newman's vocals and a simple guitar sequence. However, on your subsequent listens, you may perhaps take notice of the lyrics: "She may contain the urge to run away/But hold her down with soggy clothes and breeze blocks". Quite sinister really. According to The Guardian, this song is about the story "Where The Wild Things Are", which then makes sense of the line "Do you know where the wild things go?". The mechanical sounding drum beat is back, and in my eyes is now a quintessential piece of Alt-J songwriting that I am a fan of. I reckon this song is describing a rather volatile relationship, perhaps involving someone who is mentally ill as there seem to be many medical references including mentions of morphine and an anti-histamine drug, and perhaps this relationship is on the edge of breaking point ("Please don't go/I love you so"). Also the music video to this song is a murder played backwards, so that really emphasises the sinister edge to the song. Excellent songwriting though.

After the sinister manipulation of 'Breezeblocks', we are then calmed by 'Interlude 2', a simple guitar sequence that has some background noise as though it's being played at the side of a road or perhaps in a coffee shop. Very nice and pretty.

The next song, 'Estocada/Something Good', is actually a really good song, but unfortunately it is placed in the middle of the album and my attention span is dwindling a little. It's got a good guitar riff, and it kicks off with a sort of drummer-boy-marching-band type beat, which is quite simple but very effective. It's not as riveting as either 'Breezeblocks' or 'Tessellate', but it's a good song for chilling.

I'm a big of fan of the next song, 'Dissolve Me'. It's got a chirpy, light and upbeat drum rhythm with a good guitar pattern and possibly a wind instrument that I can't quite put a name to yet (any suggestions welcome!). A heavy bassline is also present, as well as some almost acapella parts of the song, and these too can go in the typical Alt-J checklist. The verse is very inoffensive, just kept light, and the melody is kind of all over the place, but somehow in a controlled way. To me this is kind of the opposite of 'Breezeblocks', as it sounds as though the two people in this song are quite perfect for each other; the lyrics describing a relationship of understanding and genuine feelings. I could be wrong though.

Even after the two months I've owned this album, I'm still not quite sure how I feel about the next song. I'm pretty sure I like it, but it's not one of my faves. 'Matilda' starts off with Newman singing probably at the bottom of his register. I would quite like to know who Matilda is actually, and the lyrics don't really give anything away. In fact they give nothing away, they hold no meaning to me whatsoever, but I do like the tune of the chorus.

The next song, 'MS' is intriguing already in the title, what does this mean?! But after rather extensive Googling I can't really seem to find anything. Anyway, this song feels pretty disjointed, it doesn't really flow quite so well, but what from I can make out Alt-J are pretty much doing what they want instead of following conventional songwriting methods. I like this. I honestly thought that at one point they were singing "The duck seeks duck". Yes, I know. What a moron.

'Fitzpleasure' starts off with the acapella theme that continues to run through the whole album, and is also filled with the heavy bassline. The lyrics are pretty much nonsensical. The music in this songis pretty cool, but the fact that I don't quite get the lyrics puts me off a wee bit. I have heard someone say once that Newman's voice is like a guitar; he can make many different sounds with it - this definitely applies here.

'Interlude 3' is piano chords and a floaty voice, a nice point break in the album. I have really quite enjoyed the interludes, they're nice interjections from the somewhat contrasting and slightly heavier main songs of the album.

The next song title is a bit unnerving. 'Blood Flood' contains the album title in the lyrics at the first singing point, and now everythig falls into place, Tessellating almost... Ahem. This track is so chilled, and also again has the slightly oriental sound to it. There's a part that I find really effective: Newman sings "Breathe in/Exhale" and does so after each line. It's not a massive thing but I thought it was pretty cool. This track is a nice way to push us towards the end of the album.

'Taro/Handmade' is made up of two songs. This is often done in albums, with the band leaving a "hidden" track at the end of the last song, and this is what is going on here. The opening riff at the start of 'Taro' is actually a bit Red Hot Chilli Peppers-y I reckon. The chorus is SO catchy, like really quite catchy. The constant key changing is a bit confusing, but it all seems to work so I'll let them off. Newman's voice really is astounding, and he shows it off a bit more in this track. There's a sort of Indian sounding instrument/effect mixed nto the chorus which is really awesome, really nice. The hidden track contains a sample of the famous line "Are you sitting comfortably?" from the TV program, Listen With Mother. All in all, it's just a nice way to finish off the album.

So if you're fed up with your current generic music that you've heard loads of times before, that has gone round and round the music mill and come out in the songs of different bands and you're looking for something completely different, this album is definitely for you. There's not one track on this album that I thought was a bad song, which is VERY against the norm. So take it from me, this is DEFINITELY a must-listen-to album of 2012. In fact, THE must-listen-to album of 2012.

Alt-J released 'An Awesome Wave' through Infectious on 28th May 2012. Catch them live this autumn.

Alt-J 2012 UK Tour Dates And 2013 Live Dates are as follows:

Oct 28th - Leeds Cockpit
Nov 2nd - Oxford O2 Academy
Nov 3rd - Bristol Trinity
Nov 4th - Brighton Concorde 2
Nov 5th - London Electric Ballroom
Jan 18th - London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
Jan 19th - London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

Alt-J Tickets are on sale now. Click Here to Compare & Buy Alt-J Tickets.

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