I do admit that I discovered Alt-J a bit too late since their album was released back in September and they recently won awards from Britain and Australia. It is no surprise since their more popular tracks could easily overpower those yearlong hits you here on the radio. These British natives are working their way to becoming a breakthrough band with an odd obsession for triangles. Alt-J(∆) is the Mac’s delta sign on the keyboard, which denotes change in mathematical equations, but how much change is apparent? Through one listen, I recognized a mixture of rock, folk, pop, hip hop and dubstep, but they go by the genre, “folk-step”. One minute the album will incorporate a bass-dropping pop song to a short melodic piano piece, then with a single guitar-driven tune. This variety makes Alt-J seem a bit more diverse, but it could be that they haven’t found their signature sound yet, or maybe they have.
For a debut album, An Awesome Wave is pretty...well...awesome. It consists of thirteen tracks that include three interludes and an intro. The songs all have their separate stories filled with, love, hate, tragedy and much more. The instruments will vary from time to time which is always good to here in an album. My first impression of An Awesome Wave was a debut consisting only of short pop songs that were just piled together. In reality, the album is solid due to its consistency. Despite the frequent changes in instrumentation and style, the album flows very smoothly for the most part.
The first three tracks seem to belong together in that order. The “Intro” reminds me of the XX’s beginning to their self-titled debut, only because it has a similar atmosphere and buildup. The track is almost the entire album in a nutshell. It then moves into “Interlude I”, an a cappella piece. Alt-J’s harmonized vocals have been compared to the Fleet Foxes’, and the lead singer, Joe Newman, never thought he sang well enough. The only problem I have with his voice is that it will constantly change from song to song, often ranging from Nate Ruess’s to Andre 3000’s.
The song “Tessallate” is more of Alt-J’s signature sound, and it is technically the first big track of the album. It demonstrates the type of musical arrangement where the instruments are carefully patterned and placed, instead of laying everything down to make a big sound with minimum variation. The most popular track is “Breezeblocks”, that sounds like a slower “Hey Ya” by Outkast. It carries vocal harmony and a variety of instruments including the toy xylophone.
“Interlude II” is small guitar tune that is a nice track by itself, but it does not fit in well with the album, especially after a song like “Breezeblocks”. “Something Good”, however, is an amazing song. Between the rapid piano and the steady guitar, the song is inviting and sounds almost soothing. “Dissolve Me” is a song with duel sides to it, sounding as if a folk artist injected periodical bursts of dubstep into the music. “Matilda”, however, is a pretty straightforward alternative rock piece. “Ms” sounds most like Fleet Foxes in the beginning, but it expands with resonating guitars.
“Fitzpleasure” is the second biggest track of the album, which is explosive and catchy, despite the unclarity of the lyrics. The final interlude sounds like it came straight from one of Patrick Watson’s albums. “Bloodflood” is probably my least favorite track, because it seems to be almost a reprise or a filler, which offers nothing more to the album. “Taro” takes a while to pick up completely, but when it does the sound blossoms beautifully. The final track, “Hand-Made” is probably the most intimate part of the album, with soothing guitars and lyrics. Newman sings, “Legions upon legions of craftsmen handmade my feelings”. The song is short and sweet, ending just as the listener grows very comfortable. As annoying as it sounds, it leaves the listener wanting more.
For a debut, An Awesome Wave is catchy, artful, and more original than a lot of albums that integrate separate genres, but it’s not perfect. My explanation is that Alt-J’s current music is more of a mixture than a compound, which is why I believe that they haven’t found their signature sound yet. Their music, however, has gotten my attention. I look forward to hearing more of it as this band progresses.