Release Date: Sep 18, 2012
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
It is difficult to mildly praise a British band. Either they don’t command much public attention, or they are the saviors of their genre and poised to cross the Atlantic and take over—quick, tell Paul Revere. The Beatles set a precedent for hysteria over admiration. It was the Beatles and the Stones, and then Oasis and the Stone Roses, and then the Arctic Monkeys—these boyish men in the right jeans with the right sound.
You suppose you’ve been standing on that fulcrum for a long time now. It is the one where bizarre pop bands sell out many-thousand seat venues, the one where “indie rock” has ceased to mean anything other than most nebulous vagary of a style, the one where Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem separately sold out Madison Square Garden in the same six-month period. That fulcrum, the one you balance on like a jittery gymnast, is the watershed between the avant-garde and the popular, and Alt-J, a curious pop band from the UK with one of 2012’s best releases, An Awesome Wave, are there with you, poised somewhere between real stardom and the weird circus of R&B and rock they let run free on their debut record.
There’s been a lot said about alt-j, those Mac-generated triangles, and most of it has been a struggle pit their sound to a genre. The band has given a helping hand by offering up a couple of labels, should you feel comfortable using them: ‘jump-folk’ or ‘trip-folk’, but if you find the labelling process a bit of a waste of time, best just to give them a listen. Most likely you will have first heard alt-j on the radio with their overplayed single ‘Matilda’, whose chorus quotes the climactic scene from Luc Besson’s brilliant Leon.
In an age when everything about a new band is splattered across various social media, Alt-J are something of an anomaly. From refusing to show their faces in early photos to the kerfuffle over their name (it’s the keyboard shortcut to make a triangle symbol on a Mac, obviously), they’ve already marked out themselves as oddball geeks. Lyrically, their debut ‘An Awesome Wave’ continues in this vein.
Named after the Mac command also used as a mathematical equation to show change, formed while studying fine art at university, and prone to throwing in the odd geometric reference within their lyrics, there are signs that Cambridge-based quartet Alt-J might be a little bit too clever for their own good. Produced by Charlie Andrew (the Laurel Collective), their debut album, An Awesome Wave, is occasionally guilty of pretentiousness, particularly the irritating a cappella vocal warmup of the interlude "(The Ripe & Ruin). " But for the most part, its 13 tracks do for nu-folk what Everything Everything's equally ambitious debut did for indie rock, breathing new life into the genre with an intriguing but accessible series of art rock twists and turns.
It is a contradiction in terms that the band described by some as "the new Radiohead" are prone to statements such as, "Part of the reason [the album] is accessible is because we don't try to go out of the box or be innovative. We just try to play music we like to hear." Where's my "And if anyone else likes it, that's a bonus" klaxon? In Alt-J's case, those are some pre-banking crisis-sized bonuses: Their album has gone Top 20 in the UK, and single "Tessellate" has been all over radio on both sides of the Atlantic for months. They're the favorites to win the £10,000 accolade of November's Mercury Music Prize.
A deeply exciting, original and inventive debut from recommended ones to watch. Jen Long 2012 It’s hard to place Alt-J. Originally from Leeds, they spend their time in a Cambridgeshire basement making their own brand of uniquely dubbed "folk-step". However, the noises that An Awesome Wave emits far escape the dull, dark depths such a creative location suggests.
If you were amongst the swathes of people theatrically rolling their eyes when they first heard Alt J’s name, you, oh skeptical reader, are not alone. On seeing the rather geometrical titling of ‘∆n ∆wesome W∆ve’, along with the apple-littered track naming, a hint of ominously growing despair is also understandable. The urge to take Alt J’s self-proclaimed favourite shape and drop-kick it towards the nearest Apple shop in an attempt to put an end to this ∆ nonsense may prove overwhelming.Abandon those triangle-induced rants for a moment and move swiftly onto the tunes, which are, thankfully, a complete joy.
"Are alt-J the new Radiohead?" asked Prefix mag earlier this month, in an article quoting a representative for gambling company Ladbrokes. A week later, the Cambridge, UK quartet's debut was nominated for the Mercury Prize, an award once regarded as a genuinely valuable gauge of artistry on the fringes of the UK music industry. It feels harsh to point out quite how misguided the Ladbrokes rep's hypothesis was.
If listening to the hypnotic bounce of "Breezeblocks" in an information vacuum, you could be excused for assuming Alt-J was the trip-hop moniker of some South London alternative rapper named Jerome. In fact, Alt-J remains a bespectacled quartet of former Leeds University art students who spent their spare time crafting beautiful melodies between classes. In a serious nod to nerd-dom, the band name derives from the Mac keyboard shortcut for the Greek letter delta, symbolizing change.