Ever since I first wrapped my ears around their demos last summer, I have had a hard time guarding my excitement about Alt-J (facebook/twitter) as we have come closer and closer to the release of their debut An Awesome Wave. The record isn’t released until next week, but we’ve finally got the full album stream for you all to enjoy.
In a world made up of singles packaged for download, it is great to see a band engaging with the longer form in the way Alt-J have done here. Listened to in its entirety, An Awesome Wave builds you up from the Intro through the various styles and themes found in each track, helped by a few interludes designed and executed to cleanse the aural palette.
From the outset, the Intro swirls and twists between soothing indie sounds, inventive percussion, soul-filled vocals and thundering basslines. The album is announced. The first interlude rolls in with the boys singing their acapella vocals, with harmonies that could almost have been lifted from traditional English bard-influenced folk songs but produced with atmosphere to lead up and lead into something bigger – Tessellate. Three minutes of skittish drums, carefully layered sounds, and breathtaking vocals. Breezeblocks, another of their demos, was based on the late great Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are and similarly offers the listener an escape away from the fears on unrequited love. That desire and belief that even to have your heart crushed is preferable to it being left out bleed out. A song of desperation, love and lust.
A soothing acoustic guitar interlude follows with the sound of the ebbing tide intoSomething Good. The re-arming of your self-belief as distractions give time the power to heal. I described it previously as a perfect summer jam, but it is how it moves from nervousness into that uplifting sunshine groove that gives it its power as as the first rays of the sun glisten over this world of ours. The summer theme is then continued into the cutesy, and innocent beauty of Dissolve Me. Safe, warm, and disarming. Hold my hand.
Matilda is devoted, open and honest. That single minded commitment of finding a purpose beyond yourself – in this case the assassin in Luc Besson’s Leon according to the band but we’ve all been there. That idea that drives you, from finding love, to changing the world, to giving your children the opportunities never available to you. Ms is the emergence of hope from time where you thought only “dark seeks dark”. Filled with emotional false-starts but essentially soothing and freeing. A perfect lead in to Fitzpleasure with its growling bass and thumping drums, delicate guitar and harmonised vocals that could not better reflect the sounds of power.
That power is brought to a close by a haunting piano interlude before re-awakening with the sound of school-kids in Bloodflood. The in-your-face power of Fitzpleasure is brought into perspective as the flood of blood and adrenaline of that fight of flight response, where the world slows. This adrenaline is the “awesome wave” of the title, and it is clarity. Those seconds last for minutes as your body embraces its primal response, a time when we are freed of the responsibilities of reason. That danger then expanded upon in Taro that reflects on the deaths of war photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro and the expectant release death gives to those who have lost their soulmate. The almost Bhangra-influenced melody likely in reference to the South East Asian location of Taro’s death, and demonstrates Alt-J’s ability to straddle influences and genres with ease as they layer it with rich vocals and intense strings.
It is an album that darts boldly both musically and thematically from intellectual intricacies to laid bare emotion, grabbing the listener by the hand and and whisking them through that triangular portal. In both inventive expression and intrigue – this is a masterpiece.