If you’re a music nut like me (which for your sake, I hope you’re not this bad), you may have been waiting several months for Alt-J’s debut full-length, An Awesome Wave, to be released stateside. It was released in the UK on May 25th, and has been receiving rave reviews. It is also a finalized for this year’s Mercury Prize (the award for the UK and Ireland’s best album of the year), which tends to hold much more merit than the major U.S. based music awards. It was finally released in the U.S. on September 18th.
Alt-J is a four-piece that met at Leeds University. They consist of Joe Newman (guitar/vocals), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards/vocals), Thom Green (drums), and Gwil Sainsbury (guitar/bass), and they’re fairly nerdy. They actually wanted to name their band the triangle symbol, but realized that might make things a little difficult for them, so they used “Alt-J” instead since it is the way to create that symbol when using a Mac. Luckily for us this often results in great music, and this is one such case.
I have been hearing many tracks on the radio and internet from An Awesome Wave for quite a while now, and they certainly grew on me in a big way. Alt-J has been compared to many bands, and even been dubbed the dreaded “next Radiohead,” but they show many influences and really come off as their own sound. All four members play an integral part in Alt-J. The percussion and rhythms really carry many of the songs. What will likely be the biggest hang-up for most people are Newman’s vocals. They certainly are unique, and that is what needs to grow on you. Eventually you realize that these songs wouldn’t be anywhere near as interesting with more standard vocals. Take a good listen to “Fitzpleasure” to get a good sense of all of Alt’J’s pieces working together. You get the vocals (with some harmonies too), a big fuzzy bass line from the keys, some great percussion, and even castanets from Sainsbury.
Based on the buzz surrounding An Awesome Wave, it’s pretty safe to say that you will see this album on many of the years “best of” lists, maybe even atop of some. While we still have a few months remaining, I expect it to be in my top five. Alt-J has really put something out here that is interesting, skillful, different, and beautiful. I highly recommend it for fans of all kinds of music, though it is likely too unique for the top 40 crowd.
Key Tracks: Tessellate, Breezeblocks, Fitzpleasure
Kevin Kozel - Sr. MuzikReviews.com Staff
October 5, 2012