Sound — 10
"An Awesome Wave" is a bold debut for ∆ (pronounced "Alt-J", after the Mac command) and one that has certainly been generating some well-deserved hype in the music world. Their unique blend of creamy vocals, hip-hop drums, folk guitar and synth give a very ethereal vibe that allows the listener to get lost in their beautiful instrumentation on songs like "Interludes (Pt.3)" before come crashing back into the tight rhythmic pulse of their single, "Breezeblocks". The greatest part of this band is their complete lack of pretense, given that some listeners may peg their music as "arty" or "hipster". Appearing very humble on stage, they'll lure you in with their deer in headlights stage presence before knocking you stone cold dead with cascading guitar lines and tight drumming. Overall it is hard to define exactly which genre (or genres) ∆ falls into, as their influences draw heavily and equally in all directions. From hip-hop to baroque pop to post rock the overall listening experience is a unique journey through a beautiful textural landscape.
Lyrics — 8
∆ certainly aren't afraid of contrast; in the opening number, "Intro", the vocals come thundering in with an octave pedal to lock the song into a melancholy groove and assert vocalist Joe Newman's ability to serenade such lines as "S**t them all festival, laugh at the beautiful, It's just a nod to the canon." While the octave pedal adds an immense depth to the sound of "Intro", Joe is certainly not hiding by any effect pedals. As "Interlude 1" and rocker, "Fitzpleasure", open up Joe is joined alongside bandmate Gus Unger-Hamilton; together they deliver beautiful harmonies, showing clear influences from classical music. In general, Joe shows not only immense talent in vocal delivery but he backs it up with very intriguing lyrics. While they can be extremely cryptic, I liken it to the music itself; it simply takes a few listens to really get what each piece is about. Touching on topics such as terminal illness, lust, longing and heartbreak, they are certainly not covering any new ground, but I think something is to be said for the clever use social cliches, homonym replacement, and the utter refusal to end a line with a rhyme.
Overall Impression — 10
Comparing ∆ to any other band is both impossible and pointless. To classify that which is new based on that which has been done reduces art to its constituent parts, devoid of any meaning. Is it breathtakingly beautiful? Yes. Is it heartbreakingly sorrowful? Yes. Is it without point of reference? Certainly not. While ∆ do draw on many different inspirations, I think it is a disservice to the originality of this album to delve into comparisons simply for the sake of putting this album in context. Some of the strongest tracks on this album for me are: "Breezeblocks" - Those tight drums and heart wrenching chorus keep me coming back; "Please don't go, I love you so," indeed. "Intro" - The booming vocals and tight groove blend excellently on this track. It serves perfectly as a wonderful preamble for the rest of the amble. "Taro" - I'll admit that as a Nova Scotian I'm a bit of a sucker for anything Scottish, so the wonderful little ditty in between verses gets me every time. It's also worth looking up how it's accomplished: guitarist Gwil Sainsbury uses a roll of electrical tape (from what I can tell from videos) to hammer on and pull off and get that Scottish flair. As a final word I would just like to say how awesome it is to find a band who can authentically live up to the album in a live setting. I strongly recommend checking out some of their live videos on YouTube as well as the album. I love this album. I think you will too.