An Awesome Wave review by Alt-J

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  • Released: May 28, 2012
  • Sound: 10
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9.3 Superb
  • Users' score: 7.5 (49 votes)
Alt-J: An Awesome Wave
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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.

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15 comments sorted by best / new / date

    ProgJazzMath
    Interesting band... i'm not feeling the way the music SOUNDS but the actual composition is pretty great. That probably didn't make sense, but i think you can figure out what i'm getting at
    modculture1960
    I'm sorry but an 8 for lyrics? They're mindless
    billabong3150
    Amazing band...got there album a couple months ago and have listened to the entire thing countless times. Im already curious about how they're going to follow it up. I've heard most of the lyrics are about the bands acid trips.
    Tomamo5
    Well, your analysis of the review wasn't exactly the most constructive or 'educated' of responses. It is well written and makes perfect sense, but of course a fan of the album or artist will always find a way to criticise the article or author. By your logic, if there is no need to understand anything, I can't personally see how I can fully enjoy this record. Every great piece of music needs a little bit of context after all.
    Jozef23
    You may not have understood what I meant...The genre is called 'experimental'. It's where a band uses ideas or influences to create a different sound and explore styles which haven't been explored in depth so far. To do this it can sound confusing and muddled. The lyrics don't make much sense (mainly because you can't understand the lyrics), but when read they can be interpreted. It's as if she's trying to review it as a 'pop' album and is looking for some defined subjects that she can relate to, which isn't found on an 'experimental' album. Is that a little better explanation of the phrase 'understand the album on the band when there is no need to understand anything'. If you need more help then try this idea. There is no need to understand something which is thought by many to be different.
    Tomamo5
    I think this is a much more accurate [and agreeable] review of the album from Laura Snapes. (Yes, it's on Pitchfork.) http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/1723... They're not bad by any means, but after listening to the album and seeing them live, I don't think they justify the hype at all.
    Jozef23
    That review was terrible, she blames her inability to understand the album on the band when there is no need to understand anything. Some of the stuff she says makes her sound uneducated in anything relating to music. Should be fired.