For a band that technically doesn’t even have a name – ‘Alt-J’ being the ‘pronunciation’ of the Greek symbol Delta, produced on a Mac by pressing the eponymous keys – 2012 was certainly the year they made one for themselves. Between the release of their seductively whimsical debut in May to their receiving of the prestigious and coveted Mercury Award in November, Alt-J waltzed onto the musical radar and dropped this beauty of an album straight into its centre – and for five years work, they certainly have something to be proud of.
Opening with the swaying, surreptitious grooves of ‘Intro’, the track introduces vocalist and frontman Joe Newman’s unique warbling vocals, pitching somewhere between a distant bird call and a musing old wizard. Success single ‘Tessellate’ is a mesmerising combination of curving melodies and crooning harmonies, as the four ex-Leeds University students concoct lines such as, ‘Til morning comes... Let’s tessellate’ - proof that even geometry can become a metaphor for lust. Following track ‘Breezeblocks’ continues with themes of the flesh, but takes a turn for the darker – obsession, a much-discussed accompanying video and a refrain paying homage to Maurice Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ combine to create a melancholic ode to love, bombastic and tender and contagiously good.
‘Something Good’ is a breezy, billowing track that gradually builds into an arching chorus worthy of another radio success, whilst personal favourite, ‘Dissolve Me’, is a colourful, summer-summoning tale of the band’s experiences of LSD, incorporating faux-steel drums, mellow bass and a soaring vocal solo. Successive track ‘Matilda’, an early single, draws more on Alt-J’s folk influences, wonderfully showcasing their talent for genteel, warm harmonies and Newman’s delightful shimmering tones.
‘An Awesome Wave’ draws to a close with the satisfying integrity of a true record. Another early release, ‘Fitzpleasure’ alternates superbly between staccato ‘tra-la-la’s’ and deep bass, before ‘Taro’ takes the final bow - a gorgeous, cascading end to the album. Alt-J, like many other upcoming bands, have had their fair share of questioning and criticism. Some say they have an air of pretentiousness about them; others dislike the labels that have started to orbit around them, ranging from ‘the new Radiohead’ to the dreaded ‘best new band’ – probably as much as the group themselves do. Whilst talking to Interview Magazine, Joe Newman was asked about the issue of labelling, to which he replied: ‘Our mission is not to create a new genre. We're not interested in trying to define ourselves. We don't like people trying to figure out what our music sounds like, nor do we feel like we do that for them. We're just happy writing music...’
This is good news. Regardless of industry politics, regardless of labels, I, for one, am happy to just listen – and I’m sure I’m not alone. ‘An Awesome Wave’ is out now on Infectious Music.