Written by Hannah Jelliman
There seems to be so many ‘Indie’ bands around right now that the genre is almost becoming monotonous, however emerging 4-piece Alt-J (∆) bring a fresh, innovative sound that is anything but boring. The band’s name conjures up images of computers and technology, reflected in the electronic sound of many of their songs. However, according to their Facebook page, the symbol is “in mathematical equations… used to show change”, perhaps reflecting the career changes taken in forming the band.
The boys met at Leeds University, three studying Fine Art and the other English Literature; their passion for music developed as they jammed in their dorm rooms and eventually decided that music is their calling, and thank god they did! Now based in Cambridge, the band’s style has been defined by The Guardian as “Art-rock”; however I’d be more inclined to say Folk-indie-electro is a more fitting description. Alt-J’s debut album “An Awesome Wave” is exactly what it says on the tin: an awesome set of tracks varying between mellow acoustics and up-beat electronic indie.
The opening track, aptly named “Intro”, is a calm introduction of soft repetitive piano, experimental electronics and distorted singing. Although not particularly memorable, the song is easy-listening, the type one might hear on a dance chill-out CD. The second track “Interlude I” is the first of three autonomous interludes on the album, each providing somewhat of a break from the distinct sounds of the rest of the tracks. The first interlude initially reminded me of Devon-based singing group Fisherman’s Friends, with folky a cappella harmonies. The short interim showed off the unique vocal sounds of the band’s singers, introducing the listeners to the singing style that would follow. The album only really gets going at track three, “Tessellate”, which the band have recently announced as their next single. “Tessellate” is by far my personal favourite on the album, which I’m sure will achieve great success in many singles charts on its release and is already on BBC Radio 1’s A-List playlist. The song is catchy yet unique, with tinny, syncopated drum beats and folk sounding indie vocals. The dynamic variety between up-beat and intensely quiet sections only adds to the tracks likeability.
The following track “Breezeblocks” could easily be another hit single with an incredibly catchy chorus and repetitive structure. Although having slightly grating backing vocals, the speed and intricacy of lead vocals makes the track not only listenable but also memorable; my bets would be on this as the single to be released after “Tessellate”. The album takes another step back after these two catchy numbers with its second interlude; an atmospheric track involving only an acoustic guitar and background noise. The sounds of passing cars and chatter create images of someone sat outside a bustling café jamming on their guitar. I’m not too sure what, or if there is, a point to this track, but it’s fairly quant nonetheless.
The next two tracks “something good” and “dissolve me” barely stand out from the crowd, although if either came on the radio they wouldn’t exactly be switched off. Both tracks display the bands unique sound of folky lyrics, indie guitars and hip-hip inspired drum beats with some electronic key boards and piano solos thrown in for good measure. Although not among the stand-out tracks of the album, they move it along nicely, providing a listenable few minutes of indie music.
“Matilda” slows the album down a little, with what can only be described as Alt-J’s take on a love song. The song cleverly uses simple lyrics and rhythm that raise links to many mainstream indie bands, particularly Mystery Jets, yet with Alt-J’s usual edge. The following track “Ms” maintained this sedate quality with calm, howling vocals, a cappella harmonised chords and simple guitar riffs. This slower section of the album not only accentuates Alt-J’s versatility but provides the listener with a more relaxed section mid-way through.
“Fitzpleasure” takes on a whole new sound that I would warily describe as mellow Dubstep or Drum and Bass. The track adds heavy electronics and a strong electric base to their usual sound, giving a different flavour, again showing the bands adaptability. The final interlude precedes this with simple piano chords and vocal ‘oohs’; straightforward yet beautiful.
The final three tracks are a bit more experimental than the rest of the album; “bloodflood” introduces a modernised organ and the sounds of children talking, creating an eerie tone, “Taro” is a stunning piece of music, using vocals and a solo electric guitar. An Indian sounding stringed instrument is also used later in the song giving a multicultural extra to the track. The closing song, “Handmade” winds down the album, ironically starting with a woman saying ‘are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin’. The slow track is a perfect close to the album, still displaying the bands talent yet bringing the unique set of tracks to an end.
Overall, the varied album is a great introduction to this up and coming band who I’m sure will go on to achieve great things. Their unique style and blend of folky vocals, electronic sound and hip-hop syncopated drum patterns are unlike anything or anyone else around right now. They’ve found themselves a perfect gap to fill!
Check them out via these links: