Today’s Fixation: Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave.
Do you have two and a half minutes? Because that’s all it’s going to take to have your mind blown.
When you first listen to “Intro” on Alt-J’s debut album, An Awesome Wave, you begin with the thought that you are listening to a rather excellent electronica-hip hop album. There is a smooth rhythm to start off the track, the band weaving piano, drums, and guitar to create a beat that makes you want to dance, mostly in wiggly jellyfish ways. But then the bass and vocals kick in, and you realize you are listening to music the likes of which you haven’t encountered before. The bass is throbbing and distorted, casting a shadow on the rest of the instruments, and through that shadow a voice speaks to you. It has two layers, one you hear, one you feel. It is a voice like that of some titanic deity or beast speaking to you from another plane or dimension. And it says….
“Shit them all festival, laugh at the beautiful,
It’s just a nod to the canon.
Simple man Stan can’t stand up on the beautiful,
It’s just a nod to the canon.”
Is it nonsense? Simple nothing words that happen to sound good together? Or is it a prophesy written by a mad genius in some lonely cave? As you ponder these deep mysteries, the song, as if in response to your thoughts, says “Yeeeaaahh” in a very relaxed and satisfied manner, then drops you right back in another super groovy beat that has you immediately pigeon-bobbing your head.
This beat leads right into the second track, the first of the album’s interludes. This short song reinforces the message that the album you are listening to is something new. An eerily beautiful chorus of voices paints a brief scene in your mind, and leaves you with the message,
“Like all good fruit,
the balance of life is,
In the ripe and ruin.”
Then, with a clash of keys, “Tessellate”, the first full song (not an intro or interlude) on the album begins. In Tessellate the band melds a rhythmic, groovy beat with pure harmonic vocals and more mysterious lyrics that could be nonsense, genius, or anything in between.
One of the many reasons I have been fixated on this album in recent months is that it is great music for just about any activity. It somehow manages to be upbeat enough for a party while still being relaxed enough that you can throw it on if you are just hanging out with friends. You can have it as background during a conversation or game, but it is also layered and intricate enough that you can get completely lost in it all on your own.
The rest of An Awesome Wave continues in much the same manner as the first three tracks, which means there are more incredible surprises in store for you. Go listen to “Intro”, I’ll wait here.