Album Review: Alt-J (∆) - An Awesome Wave

20 July 2012 | 10:10 am | Lucia Osborne Crowley

A fascinating combination of progressive alt-pop instrumentals and incredibly varied, intoxicating vocals.

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Alt-J's debut album, An Awesome Wave, is a fascinating combination of progressive alt-pop instrumentals and incredibly varied, intoxicating vocals, toying with structure and phrasing to produce an utterly sophisticated debut that rejects any one particularly genre and instead creates a complex, unique sound of their own. Fittingly, the record introduces the band with Intro, which opens with a soft, sombre piano melody and builds towards an incredible breadth of instrumental sound and features deep, unusual vocal tones. This is followed by Interlude, which immediately introduces a change of tone with its fast, high-pitched acappella vocal line.

Tessellate is one of the standout tracks on the album, again featuring a haphazard but remarkably coherent instrumental arrangement and sophisticated vocal tone as well as fascinating lyrical content. Interlude 2 then features a well-placed sweet piano melody that perfectly foregrounds Something Good, which is certainly another of the album's highlights with its multi-faceted instrumental base and catchy, insightful lyricism. Joe Newman's vocal range and dexterity is showcased most comprehensively in Matilda, in which, again, all the song's elements fall together seamlessly. MS has a more understated appeal than the other tracks on the album, and its soft, steady vocals allow its instrumental complexity to take centre stage.

Bloodflood, while certainly displaying the band's individual charm, is the least engaging track on the album as it is comparatively slow and relatively simple. The album's closing track, Taro, on the other hand, features a vast array of instruments and its composition is flawless, complimented again by confident, at times ethereal, vocals. This album is a triumph on all fronts, with its instrumental and vocal sophistication making it both powerful and poignant; to say nothing of the fact that it is the band's debut record.