Hype is a dangerous thing. It’s something that can either propel a band to immediate stardom and success or it can present them with a brick wall that they will repeatedly smash into. Alt-J has the unfortunate hype of being called “the next Radiohead”, which is just about as high of praise any band could receive. Too high of praise, I think, because this sets up the band for almost certain disappointment. Let me make this perfectly clear, there’s nothing on An Awesome Wave that would suggest to me that Alt-J is the new Radiohead. What it does suggest to me is that the band has an identity that is very unique, one that is straightforward yet reliant on several stylistically different genres that make their music complex and interesting.
Alt-J is an indie pop band, but it’s important to note that the label of one genre is nearly impossible to fully encapsulate what this band accomplishes. Their music contains electronica, folk, pop and art rock that is all made even more weird thanks to the less than normal vocals. They use lush instrumentation to create a truly mesmerizing soundscape, which is often the backdrop for very dreamlike and harmonized vocals. However, the most impressive thing about the band is how they can go across so many different genres, yet create an entire album that is very cohesive and focused.
The third single, “Tessellate”, is a perfect example of just how their music goes from simple to complex. It starts with a sparse piano chord that dissolves into a collage of guitar, synth, bass and a tin-like percussion of different instruments that transforms into a very chaotic beat by the end of the song. The band also presents lyrics that contain some very intense and vivid imagery. “Bite chunks out of me, you’re a shark and I’m swimming, my heart still thumps as I bleed, and all your friends come sniffing.” This is a common structure for many of the bands songs, though they introduce different styles and instrumentation to keep things from getting stale.
All of the variation of styles comes off surprisingly natural, but the band can sometimes get a bit too pretentious with the songwriting and vocals. “She’s morphine, queen of my vaccine, my love my love love love.” Its lines like this that pop up every now and then that kind of made me role my eyes, but they are backed up by more interesting instrumentation that takes the edge off a bit. The vocals are also something of an acquired taste, as they can get a bit nasally and high, sometimes distractingly so. However, they are good at conveying emotion and meaning so this is less a fault and more of a learning curve that comes with their music.
Forgetting about all of the hype that the band is receiving at the moment, Alt-J is simply a very promising band that embraces experimentation that revolves around a catchy and simplistic core. They effortlessly cross several genre boundaries and don’t come off sounding confused or overwhelmed. It’s rare for a band this early in their career to have such a distinct identity, but they are definitely a well-oiled machine that knows exactly what they are capable of doing. As they continue to refine their sound I can only imagine them getting better, and with such a solid debut it seems their future is very bright, hype or no hype.
Release Date: May 25, 2012
Genres: Alternative Rock, Art Rock, Experimental