As one would expect for a band who name themselves after a keyboard shortcut, alt-J belong to the wave of studious, geeky types who have chosen electronica as their main calling card. It’s a tactic which worked well for Hot Chip and – lest we forget – Radiohead. alt J’s debut has also just received the accolade of Mercury Music Prize which can often be a mixed blessing.
A key to the alt-J sound are the unusual vocals of Joe Newman who sounds like a sad and occasionally soulful robot. It’s a tactic which can delight and infuriate in equal measure. Some moments give “nerd pop” a good name, such as ‘Tessellate’ which revels in the idea that “Triangles are my favourite shape, three points where two lines meet”. It may take a while for the first hook to make itself known but at least it’s a great one for ‘Breezeblocks’, where Newman’s affected tones form a hypnotic mesh that is both wonderfully original and bizarre. Likewise, ‘Matilda’ is sweet and clever constructed.
Other songs bear the hallmarks of quality but also contain considerable flaws. ‘Something Good’ features a nice piano loop and rhythm whilst ‘Dissolve Me’ is a rather clumsy attempt at sounding soulful but its skittering beats salvage the situation. ‘Fitzpleasure’ and ‘(Interlude 1)’, however, give vocal experiments a bad name.
As much as one wants to like this album for its adventure (and it must be conceded that this is their first), I’m afraid ‘An Awesome Wave’ left me feeling rather cold. In its attempt to make something new, the group often fail to convey much in the way of emotion or, even more significantly, memorable songs.
Radiohead, King Louis, Grasscut