An Awesome WaveAlbum | Alt-J By Stewart Mason
2012's most exciting debut album.
Rock's most forward-looking bands rarely start out pushing the boundaries. Some (like Talk Talk, Blur or Radiohead) debut with albums that fit squarely into then-current pop trends and then start testing the parameters later. Others (Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors) are brimming with interesting new ideas from the start, but a combination of low recording budgets and insufficient self-editing skills doesn't present them in the best light. And so the truism has developed that for bands like this, it's the third album where everything really comes together. (Think OK Computer, The Colour of Spring, Parklife, Veckatimest, etc.) That's what makes the first album by British quartet Alt-J so impressive: it so expertly weaves together diffuse strains of art-rock experimentalism and indie-pop smarts that it sounds more like a third album than a debut.
Drawing on decades of British psychedelia and art rock, with a particular apparent fondness for pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd and late-'90s cult heroes The Beta Band, An Awesome Wave seamlessly travels through chanted a cappella harmonies, blissfully stoned mash-ups of electronic beats and backwards guitars, acoustic folkie lyricism, ambient field recordings, hyperkinetic rhythms and heavy riffing, all tied together by guitarist Joe Newman's appealingly quirky vocal timbre, which often recalls that of art-rock godfather Robert Wyatt. It's impressive enough that Alt-J are able to fuse all of these influences into instantly-memorable pop songs like pre-LP singles "Tesselate" and "Breezeblocks," but even when they go into full-on weirdness, like the quasi-middle eastern vocal melody and stop-start dynamics of "Fitzpleasure," everything somehow fits together. By some distance the most exciting debut album of 2012, An Awesome Wave promises even more impressive work down the line.