#2 on the 2012 Musical Bacon Calendar
An Awesome Wave by Alt-J
Sometimes you hear a song and your immediate reaction is mixed. On one hand, “this song is AWESOME.” On the other, “something is off. I’m going to hate this in 6 months.” You know those bands. The ones that create an absolutely of-the-moment song that sounds great, gets tons of airplay, burns everyone out on their work, and then falls off into obscurity never to produce another good song. The signs pointing to “one hit wonder” are many and bright, so I’m rarely wrong when I have this feeling. But I’m also not afraid to admit when I’m wrong.
∆, pronounced “Alt-J” — named after the keyboard combination you type on a Mac to make a Greek Delta symbol: “∆” — certainly seemed like a flash in the pan. Their song “Something Good” was in daily rotation on KEXP, and I did like the song quite a bit. But at the same time, the negative backlash I was hearing from my local circle of trusted music critics was influencing my desire to listen to the band. Hearing great things about the band in other places finally pushed me over the edge. I bought the album, and quickly fell in line with the others who were heaping positive comments on the band. When an album causes wild fluctuations in opinion, like “#1 of the year” to “4.8 out of 10,” you know they’re doing something right.
Alt-J is made up of four guys from Leeds, England, who met in college in 2007. They worked and perfected the songs on An Awesome Wave over five years before releasing it in May 2012. Their music is most easily described as techno indie pop, although most of the music is actually created by traditional analog instruments. The music is very personal at times, so it is surprising to me to see that the recorded work is not the result of one person tinkering away in Pro Tools, but is truly a collaboration of the four musicians working in a Brixton-based studio.
There are hints on many other bands in their sound, but the vocals of lead singer Joe Newman are distinct, sounding something like an affected Sting. The songs on the album are diverse and infectious, nearly every song on the album could be a hit, imminently listenable. There are a number of videos available for viewing and listening:
- “Breezeblocks,” is my favorite of the bunch, but be warned: this is disturbingly violent. It’s interesting because it’s slow-motion, in reverse, showing the slow-reveal of a domestic dispute gone horribly awry.
- “Tesselate,” featuring a room full of thugs having strange conversations and making random triangular symbols.
- “Fitzpleasure,” with strange, digitally-enhanced dancing, shown above, and a French video version that is entirely different and not NSFW.
- “Matilda,” showing a slow blend of faces.
I do like An Awesome Wave quite a bit, but I couldn’t put it at #1. There’s one more album out there that I listened to more than any other album this year, and it’s a doozy. Stay tuned for the best album of the year, to be posted tomorrow.
3. Gossamer by Passion Pit
4. Lion’s Roar by First Aid Kit
5. Maraqopa by Damien Jurado
6. Shallow Bed by Dry The River
7. Valtari by Sigur Rós
8. The Heist by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
9. Heaven by The Walkmen
10. State Hospital EP by Frightened Rabbit
11. A Thing Called Divine Fits by Divine Fits
12. Some Nights by fun.
13. Tramp by Sharon van Etten
14. Fear Fun by Father John Misty
15. Love This Giant by David Byrne and St. Vincent
16. To The Treetops! by Team Me
17. The Master: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood
18. There’s No Leaving Now by The Tallest Man On Earth
19. Transcendental Youth by The Mountain Goats
20. A Church That Fits Our Needs by Lost In The Trees
21. Hospitality by Hospitality
22. Free Dimensional by Diamond Rings
23. History Speaks by Deep Sea Diver
24. A Different Ship by Here We Go Magic
25. Negotiations by the Helio Sequence
26. Moms by Menomena
27. The Sound of the Life of the Mind by Ben Folds Five
28. Shields by Grizzly Bear
29. Every Child A Daughter, Every Moon A Sun by The Wooden Sky
30. Fragrant World by Yeasayer
31. Reign of Terror by Sleigh Bells