Alt-J: An Awesome Wave
From ancient Gregorian chants to modern rock and pop, vocal harmonies have always been an important part of music. Many people think that harmonies became their most pure during the age of the Beach Boys and the Beatles but recently, harmonies have been enjoying a revival. Bands like Fleet Foxes and Mumford and Sons have brought pure harmonies back to the forefront. On their debut album, British band, Alt-J take a note of all these bands’ books to create their own world of harmonies.
The reason I focus so much on the harmonies on Awesome Wave is because it is the only consistent element on the record. The album erratically from genre to genre with no rhyme or reason and if not for the harmonies, the listener would have no idea these tracks were made by the same band. The album starts with “Intro,” a piano-ballad-turned-dubstep-banger which features lead vocalist, Joe Newman harmonizing with a monsterously low voice. Although the harmonies on “Intro” are not representative of the rest of the album, the track as a whole sets the tone for an album that is rarely what it seems.
The album’s second track “Interlude 1” is much more conducive to the rest of the album. The track is a one minute acapella song with syncopated vocals and Fleet Foxes-esque harmonies. These same type of harmonies are featured on the album’s second single “Breezeblocks,” arguably the best track on the album. The track’s schizophrenic beat and angular guitars are reminiscent of indie rock godfathers like Pavement or Dismemberment Plan but with the addition of tight harmonies.
I do not want to give the false impression that harmonies can propel everything to greatness. Tracks like “Dissolve Me” are too eclectic for their own good, bouncing from lush keyboard pop to sparse indie folk a the drop of a hat. The changes are too abrupt and sound forced at best. Luckily “Dissolve Me,” represents the minority of songs on the album not the majority. For a debut album, An Awesome Wave shows an ambition that many young bands do not have. It is a well put together album, albeit eclectic. With a little more instrumental cohesiveness next album, Alt-J could be a force to be reckoned with.
MP3: Alt-J “Breezeblocks”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl
It’s really interesting that you describe it as erratic – because I actually thought there was something incredibly cohesive about the album. In fact, it’s one of the only albums I’ve listened to in a while that begs to be listened to in its entirety – skipping tracks would be like skipping entire chapters of a novel.