Calling your band a shape is probably a bad career move. It’s corny, at the very least, which is part of the reason I didn’t pick up ?’s album sooner. It turns out you pronounce the delta symbol like “Alt-J” in the instance of this up-and-coming British indie rock group. Their debut, An Awesome Wave, is a special breed of delightful weird – the kind that enlightened hipsters and psychedelic drug users everywhere revel in.
An Awesome Wave has thirteen tracks, including one titled “Intro” and three interludes throughout. Joe Newman’s vocals set the group apart from standard pop and rock music immediately – his sometimes nasally, sometimes raspy, always chilled out sentiments are layered over Gus Unger-Hamilton’s comprehensive key work and Thom Green’s drums. Gwil Sainsbury also contributes guitar and bass. The effect is alluring and unsettling, not entirely unlike Animal Collective on a bad trip (or after puberty). In the same sense that nobody ever really knows what Bon Iver is saying, most tracks on An Awesome Wave are nigh impossible to fully understand without the help of printed lyrics but it doesn’t detract from the overall effect of the music. The music paired with the vocals have a greater effect than either would individually. They’re synergetic.
Highlights include “Bloodflood” and “Interlude 2.” “Bloodflood” combines all sorts of strings in a series of slow builds and variations with Newman’s curious vocals and the odd lyric “he’ll slap me like a whale.” “Interlude 2” is fascinating and beautiful, standing out among the rest of the tracks as the only purely acoustic cut on the album. It’s an interesting glimpse into a different flavor of Alt-J that shows potential for development beyond the consistent moodiness of An Awesome Wave. The least loved track is “Matilda.” Cyclical guitar and weepy moaning about a boy from the point-of-view of a girl sung by a man can’t keep my interest. Unfortunately it’s probably the most comprehendible song on the album lyrically.
Clearly Alt-J is onto something as they’re on the charts internationally and selling out shows on their current US tour. As a band that’s just getting started I hope they’ll mature and become more dynamic in their future releases and we’ll get to experience a little more of the “Interlude 2” side of the group as they expand and explore their sound.
7.0 / 10
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