∆ (Alt-J) – An Awesome Wave (2012)

Debut LP of indie Leeds group ∆ (or Alt-J for convenience sake) with Awesome Wave.

Wow. Just wow. Saw this around a few times but its genre categorisation put me off at first; it’s actually really, really difficult to classify simply, which means that people have a habit of just tagging it on to a whole load of bullshit genres. I got it once I saw it on a 2012 list I really respect and was hooked from the first spin.

“Intro” immediately displays the scope of the coming album, switching effortlessly from graceful piano to a kind of dub/folk mix of guitars and electronic beats. Yes, this is really happening and yes, it is as awesome as it sounds. “Ripe and Ruin” next is actually almost completely acapella, almost spoken word in its delivery; Alt-J are not afraid to be different and alternate their style radically between tracks.

“Tessellate” is one of the tracks they released prior to this album; in fact, they released quite a lot of tracks from this as singles, so if you’ve been following this band I imagine you’d be rather disappointed. It’s odd, actually, a lot of the tracks here that garnered the most attention (mostly due to their prior release) like “Tesselate”, “Breezeblocks” and “Matilda” are actually some of my least favourite tracks here.  I like “Matilda” for its subtlety and gorgeous acoustic guitar, but I feel the vocals here are a bit obnoxious and overdone.

“Guitar” and “Piano”, two <1 minute tracks, act as nice little instrumental breaks at the ends of the album. They’re not really needed I suppose, they dont alter the flow in any way, they just pad it out quite nicely. “Guitar”‘s gentle plucks and sunny samples segue nicely into “Something Good”. “Dissolve Me” is absolutely stunning, one of my favourite tracks of the year. Bright, metallic rattles, a really driven bassline, intimate vocals, all of it gets its own space and its own few seconds in the fore. Sometimes the verses are brought forward and it gets minimal, other times it breaks down with a tonne of instrumentation and gets incredibly maximalist, but Alt-J pull it off flawlessly.

“Ms” is another gem; delicate xylophonic beats, wonderfully textured guitar and enigmatic yet perfectly suitable lyrics:

“the dark seeks the dark

the dark seeks the dark

the nights of all my youth pressed into one glass of water”

It’s hopeful and bright and clear and just really, really great. It has a fantastic folk sound.

“Fitzpleasure” shakes things up a little as we make a move towards the end; completely indecipherable and with a fat electronic bass weaving in and out of the various acoustic instruments. The guitars have also been given a lot more power and distortion with huge blats of energy and sound surging in intermittently, mixing the beat up.

“Bloodflow” follows in the vein of “Ms”, panning out initially with easygoing synth and becoming progressively more textured as the vocals kick in. It’s downtrodden, downtempo lyrics are melancholic (“a flood of blood to the heart from fear slipstreams“), reminding himself to breathe on more than one occasion.

I’m finding it incredibly difficult to talk about and break down this album; it’s just a smooth ride, an incredibly mature listening experience for a debut and astonishingly original. You’re gonna have to take my word on this and just get it.

8/10

(3/9/2012 edit: score revised from 9/10 to 8/10)

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