Alt-J's "The Awesome Wave". Three stars.
Today I gave Alt-J (∆)’s 2012 release “An Awesome Wave” a thorough chance to impress me. Many of my friends have been talking up this record and this band for a while, and in the snippets I had heard, I wasn’t too interested.
However, as things go, you’re nothing but a snob if you don’t like what other people like, so I made time today as I moved from one house to another to listen to the record all the way through, two times, actually.
Three stars. Three out of five, mind you, not ten. Three stars for mediocrity. Three stars for not being terrible. Three stars for cool. Three stars for uninteresting.
The Production: There are some great ideas presented on “An Awesome Wave”, with instrumentation that solidifies this band as something that takes effort. I like music that takes effort, but I prefer music that takes effort that sounds effortless. This doesn’t sound effortless. It sounds tough to pull off. I’ve been assured that the live show is mindblowing, but I’ll see for myself one day. Some of the best sounds on the record are the bass guitar and synthesized bass. Saw-toothed, dub-stepped madness. This is specifically showcased on the song “Fitzpleasure” [track 10 for those of you who listen to CD’s in your car]. The only complaint I have with the production is the lack of prioritizing in the mix. Typically, a band that is trying too hard will try and add layers upon layers of sounds, and this record falls victim to the complexities overshadowing the poignancy of certain hooks.
The Songwriting: I have a hard time getting past this bands complete lack of balance between interesting arrangements and their songwriting, or lack thereof. The subscription to today’s meaningless obsession with triangles seems overdone, and even rears it’s head in the lyrics:
‘Triangles are my favorite shape
Three points where two lines meet
Toe to toe, back to back, let’s go, my love; it’s very late
'Til morning comes, let's tessellate'
I don’t think I’m alone in being confused by the meaningless babble that saturates this record. An Awesome Wave seems to be nothing more than a dance record, with catchy hooks and fat bass lines, disguising itself as a band’s collection of good songs. No one praises the profound writing of Skrillex or Justice. But damn, do they groove hard. That’s about all this record’s songs have going for it. Damn hard grooves.
As far as the vocal performance goes, I am rarely anything but annoyed. Leeds native Joe Newman rarely pushes the boundaries of his strange and borderline incomprehensible singing for the whole record, which is fine, because he’s saying close to nothing important anyways.
Apparently this record took 5 years to create, and that makes me shudder- mostly because of how obvious that is. Without a doubt, the songs used to exist in a more wholesome, organic state, but with the amount of bullshit forced into the arrangements, it leaves little more than slightly viscous and fully hollow shell of what they could have been. This recorded is unfortunately considered innovative and fresh, but I much more easily side with the band’s admission, “we don’t try to go out of the box, or be innovative”, because they don’t.