Album Review: An Awesome Wave

An Awesome Wave — Alt J

It’s a dream — but one that has a beginning, middle, and end. One that actually makes sense…sort of. Alt-J (∆), a U.K. band that didn’t seem to call much attention to itself accomplished that very thing in 2012 as they discreetly released their debut album, An Awesome Wave, and watched as it climbed the charts across Australia, The U.S., The U.K., and several other nations spanning Europe. Frontman Joe Newman, claims the band ”absentmindedly sounds like no other at the moment,” making their musical brilliance and unparalleled sound appear to be of a Wolfgang Mozart kind of situation. Nonetheless, with five years behind the making of this album, it’s clear that each and every note, every pause, every beat and lyric was ever so carefully and deliberately placed, with countless meticulous adjustments along the way, amounting to this musical doctrine.

After a suspenseful multi-instrumental build-up in ”Intro” followed by one minute and 12 seconds of acapella (“Interlude 1”) — how many bands decide to go instrumental commando for a full track? — Gus Unger-Hamilton’s led fingers come down on the piano keys as the band declares its official entrance with “Tessellate.” “Chunks of you will sink down to seals / Blubber rich in mourning, they’ll nosh you up,” Newman sings. Only those of the zealous alt-j cult savor such audibly indiscernible and nonsensical lyrics. Some are references to films and others as arbitrary as the name of their band: the result of pressing the ‘alt’ key together with the ‘j’ key on an apple keyboard. ∆.

Newman’s viscous vocals carry through “Something Good,” bringing us right to the alternative-rock-indie-folk inspired “Dissolve Me.” The song keeps listeners on their toes as the fast tempo turns slow and back up highlighting that pop undertone with a domineering bass and wide range of vocals. “Interlude 2” sounding like something off of Jack Johnson’s From Here to Now To You with the perpetual waves and gentle picking, sets the stage for a mellow two acts. “Matilda” is the car ride back after a long group outing to a faraway lake. The front seat passenger reclines his chair and puts his feet up on the dashboard as he looks up through the glass roof window into the neverending sky adorned with luminous sprinkles. On his periphery, the dark outlines of mammoth redwoods whiz by. In the back, friends drift to sleep as the driver is left in solitude… The contemplative arrangement continues through “Ms,” and in fact, such reflective musing runs seem to weave through the entire album despite some vigorous beats dispersed throughout the 14 tracks.

An Awesome Wave is a true work of art. With its eclectic layers of complexity and experimental nature, one might wonder how this quartet could possibly make an album so seamlessly cohesive. Some credit must go to producer, Charlie Andrew, who worked with the four to create this masterpiece. My gratitude goes out to Andrew along with Newman’s unique voice and the entire band’s dedication to their work for offering such a delicacy to the world of music. An awesome wave it is.