30 May 2012

Album Review: Alt-J - An Awesome Wave

Prince famously changed his name to a symbol. Alt-J started out as one, as their real name is in fact a triangle. The geometry theme runs through their artwork and infiltrates their lyrics: “triangles are my favourite shape, three lines where two points meet” on ‘Tessellate’. Although this sounds like a gimmick, Alt-J can be forgiven - An Awesome Wave has been met by a tide of praise which is completely deserved.
From the first softly shifting chords and ticking percussion in the ‘Intro’, there is a quiet intensity to the band’s sound. The theme is echoed later on the sombre yet lyrical ‘Matilda’. ‘Breezeblocks’ is a rare burst into a rockier style, but this is about as aggressive as it gets. There’s a sense that this is not a singer-and-others setup, rather a partnership of equals. Such an arrangement suits Joe Newman’s unique and understated voice which is complemented by the intricate harmonies, whilst Gus Unger-Hamilton’s shimmering piano arpeggiation on ‘Something Good’ is the closest thing to an ostentatious guitar solo. ‘Ms’ is beautifully austere, particularly when the subtle drumming and guitar fall away to expose the vocals, and the tumbling rhythms on ‘Bloodflood’ challenge the ear.
They resist comparisons to other bands, claiming that if they were too similar to anyone else they “wouldn’t be doing their job”. So many different sounds emerge on the album, from the close-harmony chants which open ‘Fitzpleasure’ to rumbling bass drones on ‘Dissolve Me’, that it’s impossible to fit An Awesome Waveinto a genre-shaped box. The polyphonic soundscapes of Mike Oldfield are the closest musical reference point, but such a comparison fails to appreciate that in crafting such an distinctive sound, Alt-J haven’t forgotten to make great music at the same time. 
Originally published at Dale & Co.

28 May 2012

Say Hi!

Hi! Magazine are launching their music section today, written by a talented bunch of contemporary music experts... and me. There'll be fresh news, reviews, interviews and more every day of the week. Have a look at hihimag.com. The magazine are looking for more contributors so get in touch if you've got something to offer.

17 May 2012

Stay late at the office

Tomorrow night in Manchester, local promoters Now Wave are hosting "New Sounds of the North" featuring Alt-J (I don't have a Mac so can't do that triangle thing), Money and the hotly tipped No Ceremony. The gig is in the unlikely setting of a city centre office block and all three are highly recommended. This is the excellent "Matilda" by Alt-J: