Band Appreciation Friday – Alt-J

Please break my heart

Alt-J is one of those bands that constantly has me on the edge of my seat. Every single time I listen to their music, I find something completely new, whether it’s meaning in the lyrics, a hidden piano or guitar riff, or a variation in the vocals. They can either be described as indie dream pop as well as experimental pop, both of which I absolutely agree with. The music is quirky, odd, innovative, and incredibly fresh. Of course, like all experimental music, it helps to ease in gently rather than throw yourself in. Alt-J is an acquired taste – it takes repetition and a patient ear to really understand why their music is absolutely incredible.

The band started in 2008 under the name FILMS, but then changed to Alt-J, which is the process of making a triangle on a mac computer (▲). The triangle is also the symbol delta, which also means a certain change or alteration. The members (Joe Newman, Thom Green, Gus Unger-Hamilton, and Gwil Sainsbury) met at Leeds University, and spent over two years writing, rehearsing, and recording before signing with Infectious Records in 2011. There is a tight chemistry between the members of the band, and you can really hear it in their music. Unfortunately, it was announced this year that guitarist Gwil Sainsbury would no longer be a part of the band. Alt-J explained that while they will miss Gwil, they wish him the best and assure that the music will not falter. However, Gwil Sainsbury was part of the debut album that made them famous in the indie music world, and that album is absolutely remarkable and deserves every praise.

Alt-J_-_An_Awesome_WaveAn Awesome Wave, Alt-J’s debut album, was released in 2012. As before mentioned, the songs are strange at first listen – complex melodies, quirky, bewildering lyrics, and confusing subject matter – and that might turn the simpleton away immediately. It’s the second listen that makes the album extraordinary, and the second listen reminds you not to take everything so literally. Take, for example, their single “Breezeblocks.” The lyrics throw reference to a love that’s expired, and one person holding on to the scraps of their lost love for dear life. Joe Newman directs the almost lover with his gorgeously unique voice to “hold her down with soggy clothes and breezeblocks (tie her down to the relationship) if she attempts to leave. He’s scared of her leaving him, but also fully aware of the situation, and the pain is too much to take. He pleads for her to not leave him, but also realizes that ultimately, she must break his heart. It’s an incredibly emotional song, and the guitar and bass melodies create this sickly, eerie ambiance that radiates throughout. “Tessellate” is one of Alt-J’s finest songs, and it pays homage to the whole triangle motif. Stark piano chords give that indescribable, geometric tone that is simply amazing. The lyrics are absolutely brilliant, and it’s such a sweeter way to say the obvious. Vibrant guitar riffs power the exotic sounding “Something Good,” while things immediately slow down a touch in their more romantic song “Matilda” and “Ms” in which soft vocals and simplistic instrumentals take place. One of my favorites from An Awesome Wave would definitely have to be “Dissolve Me.” It’s energetic, electronic, and propelled by these fantastic drums and innovative synth. It speeds up and slows down perfectly, and it’s truly the anthem for a day where you feel invincible. Speaking of invincibility, that’s exactly the way I describe the empowering track “Fitzpleasure.” The bass in this song is absolutely mind-blowing, and the strange, almost incomprehensible lyrics make it even better for some reason. The album ends with “Taro,” which is an excellent finisher because of it’s slow, exotic, yet sleepy sounding instrumentals and vocals. Also, the album showcases an intro as well as three interludes sprinkled throughout, in which they do not exceed more than two minutes. They serve as openers and a sort of backstory into the song you are about to listen to, and they really make a difference. In fact, these four tracks make An Awesome Wave more well rounded, and show off a different side of the band. I really enjoyed this album and continue to enjoy finding the little bits and pieces of what creates the distinct ambiance that is cultivated so beautifully.

What I love about Alt-J is that they are such intellectuals and the music they create is complex and modernist, but they are still quite accessible. There’s a reason why they are so popular, and I’m happy to say that I’ve definitely gotten a grasp of why that is. They spend so much time perfecting their unique sounds, and it really shows. Each track on this album perfectly and effortlessly fits together, and it flows with such grace and distinction. The vocals both make you shudder, shiver, and fall in love all at once, and the fact that it’s so different and wonderfully odd from all the rest is something I really appreciate. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for their audience next time.

 

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Tycho – “Apogee”

Tycho-AwakeTycho is an instrumental band made up mostly of multi-instrumentalist Scott Hansen. His music is a blend of post-modern pop music and the ambient, colorful influences of indie synth. The songs that Tycho releases are more like soundscapes rather than actual songs, and each one has it’s own environment in which it has a certain perfect niche. Each one tells a story, one in which there is a distinct beginning, middle, and end, something that is hard to find in instrumental songs. I rarely listen to purely instrumental music because it’s incredibly easy to get lost and consumed by sound (not in the good way), but I know tenacity and innovation when I hear it. Tycho has definitely opened my eyes and showed me that instrumental music is simply wonderful. One of my favorite tracks of his is titled “Apogee.” It remains true to it’s name, and serves as the apex of Tycho’s beautifully composed album. It’s vibrant, soothing, and energetic, and it really appeals to all the senses. “Apogee” is from Tycho’s third album Awake, which was released earlier this year.

 

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White Sea – “Prague”

homepage_large.ee6f529dWhite Sea is the solo project of M83 singer/keyboardist Morgan Kibby. Just like M83, her music is dramatic, filled with intensity, and immensely energetic. Morgan Kibby shows off her vocal chops a little bit more in White Sea, and it ultimately shows off another side of her than what was seen in that other band. In this track titled “Prague,” that notion of drama and theatricality is definitely heard. It’s very different from the other songs on that particular album, which are softer and smoother in comparison. Overall, the music and vocals are mostly pop-inspired, and are complex in production. I can hear similarities to La Roux, Marina and the Diamonds, female artists from the eighties and nineties, and of course, M83, but there’s something about it that makes it entirely White Sea. Who knows? Maybe Morgan Kibby will be just as successful on her own as when she was in M83. “Prague” is from White Sea’s debut album In Cold Blood, which was released this year.

 

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Son Lux – “Alternate World”

homepage_large.0a3eb83fSon Lux is the stage name of singer and instrumentalist Ryan Lott. He makes music that is expansive, thought provoking, and ultimately, incredibly powerful. He plays around with the concept of sound, meaning that he uses bits and pieces of things that normally don’t go together (opera choirs, metallic synth beats, tribal inspired drums, playful orchestral melodies), but then finds a perfect medium to place them all in. Needless to say, it works. His voice is sharp, flinty, and normally in the falsetto range, which is perfect as an overlay to his music. In this track titled “Alternate World,” all these different effects come into play, and the result is a magnificent, ambient, yet slightly depressing song that highlights the painful aftertaste of a lost love. The piercing chimes peppered throughout the song is a sharp reminder of the bitter effect that love brings, but then Ryan Lott’s voice and the violin strums remind us of why we just can’t seem to stay away. “Alternate World” is from Son Lux’s third studio album Lanterns, which was released last year.

 

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Phosphorescent – “Song For Zula”

Muchacho_album_coverPhosphorescent is composed of singer/songwriter Matthew Houck and his band. I hear so many little tidbits of other artists when I hear his music, but it still remains it’s own work of art. I sometimes hear in his music the likes of Willie Nelson, U2, Fleet Foxes, and the list goes on. It’s definitely part of the whole indie folk genre, and everything from the hazy guitar to the translucent synth, to the gorgeously trembling vocals prove that it belongs there. Phosphorescent’s track “Song For Zula” is absolutely beautiful, and a medley of different emotions can be heard, including passionate sadness, desperation, and the constant yearning for something meaningful. It’s obviously a very personal and introspective song, and it creates an amazingly delicate ambiance. “Song For Zula” is from Phosphorescent’s sixth album Muchacho, which was released in 2013.

 

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Parquet Courts – “Instant Disassembly”

WYR0514tubejktnoguidlinesParquet Courts are the slow ease into more intense punk rock music that I needed. Their music is intense, sprawling with classic punk rock guitar melodies, perfectly discordant vocals, and raw, unfiltered intstrumentals that everyone expects. However, Parquet Courts seem to break away from the norm a bit. Punk rock music is known to be less of a free-flowing idea and more resembling short bursts of anger and intensity, which is why it usually only appeals to select groups of people that can handle it. Parquet Courts, however, seem to take more time and put more effort into whatever it is they are creating, whether its the jumbled, rapid, and fervent song “Sunbathing Animal,” or the more softer, sleepy track “Instant Disassembly.” The repeating guitar melody throughout the song really tones down the intensity, and it’s a glance into the band’s somewhat brighter side. “Instant Disassembly” is from Parquet Courts’ new album Sunbathing Animal, which will be released on June 3rd.

 

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The Correspondents – “Fear & Delight”

5050580607095.170x170-75The Correspondents are an electronic band from London. They are composed of two people that go by the names of DJ Chucks, who supplies the music, and Mr. Bruce, who sings.  They formed in 2007 and performed at Glastonbury in 2010, where critics named them as one of the top ten acts that year. Their music is upbeat, electronic, and incredibly dance inspired, and even has some eighties and nineties influences. I hear bits and pieces of Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode in the vocals and the overall tone of the music, especially in their song “Alarm Call,” and it’s something I absolutely love. They can be deep and personal as well as fun and exuberant, as seen in their song “Fear & Delight.” It’s jumpy, bouncy beats and quirky lyrics give the song a feeling of joy and vitality. And, to top it all off, the music video is absolutely fantastic. “Fear & Delight” is from The Correspondents’ debut album Puppet Loosely Strung, which was released in 2013.

 

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La Roux – “Let Me Down Gently”

La_Roux_-_Trouble_in_ParadiseLa Roux is the stage name of singer and keyboardist Elly Jackson. The English synthpop act was initially formed with Elly Jackson and producer Ben Langmaid, but he left the band at the beginning of this year. That didn’t alter La Roux’s abilities or persona at all, however. Elly Jackson is the face of the band, with backup musicians helping her out at every performance. The music they create is heavily influenced by eighties bands such as Erasure, Depeche Mode, and Eurythmics, and it’s very clearly heard in every single one of La Roux’s songs. Her self titled debut album was highly successful, with the hit single “Bulletproof,” and Elly Jackson proved that she is a strong contender in the world of electronic music. Her new single “Let Me Down Gently” showcases some of the same qualities seen in her last album, but seems smoother and more relaxed. It definitely sounds more mature and sophisticated, and it’s the perfect teaser for her upcoming new album. “Let Me Down Gently” is from La Roux’s new album Trouble in Paradise, which will be released on July 7th of this year.

 

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Band Appreciation Friday – The Lighthouse And The Whaler

I was wishing we could go back to how it was

The Lighthouse and the Whaler are the perfect personification of summer. They emanate feelings of joy from the experiences of being with the ones you love, the hopeless adventures and random happenstances, and the wonderful emotion of being free and independent. Their music is bright, happy, and of course, contain songs that capture nostalgia and homesickness, something that’s bound to come along with the fleeting nature of warmth. However, the best bands manage to bottle up these lovely emotions into wonderful songs and leave it up to you to play them whenever you’re feeling cold and missing that same warmth, which is why they deserve more recognition.

The+Lighthouse+And+The+WhalerThe Lighthouse and the Whaler is composed of brothers Michael and Matthew LoPresti (who sing and drum, respectively), multi-instrumentalist Mark Poro, and bassist Ryan Walker. The band released their self-titled debut album in 2009, and it was an album that showed more of their folk side and much much less of their later, equally successful pop side. “White Days,” one of the openers,  is composed of chimes, xylophones, and lyrics that are perfect for such a cute folk song. It is followed by the slower, more honest track “Of The Heavens And The Earth” and the gorgeously exquisite song “Two Years Ago,” which is opened by a colorful, consistent violin solo that remains to accompany Michael LoPresti’s delicate voice. “Under Mountain, Under Ground” is definitely the most “folky” song on the album, with it’s constant mandolin strums and choral-like vocals, and it’s the perfect blend of passion and sadness. “Always For You” closes the album with a bang, and gives it a sense of steady completion. The Lighthouse and the Whaler was a good start for the four piece band, but for me, something didn’t seem quite right. Don’t get me wrong, I love the album with all my heart, but I honestly believed that the band could go so much further, both musically and lyrically. They needed to keep their folk background and base, of course, but needed an extra little umph to get them going. And, as if they read my mind, they did exactly that and more over the next three years.

the-lighthouse-and-the-whaler-this-is-an-adventureThis is an Adventure was released in 2012, and it was the most excellent evolution the band could ever have. They still maintained their childlike senses of wonder and hope as seen in their last album, but added more mature, sophisticated vocals and instrumentals which jump-started their rise to fame. Michael LoPresti has seamlessly perfected his gorgeous voice and has taken a few risks as well, something you must do as an indie band. The opening track “Pioneers” accurately showcased their new found, older personality, and it’s something that sounds absolutely wonderful. The chimes and energetic vocals set it apart from anything from their past album, and ultimately sets the stage for a flawless new album. “Venice” comes next, and from the sweetly dark lyrics to the bright, poppy guitar, the song is definitely one of my favorites. It’s simple, considering that the lyrics innocently ask “why don’t we fall in love?” It’s followed by “Little Vessels”, a song that could almost definitely be it’s partner in crime. It’s even more dark and passionate, but doesn’t go too far off the deep end. It still contains the chimes and energetic drums that exude innocence, but at the same time houses an indescribable sense of beautiful turmoil. The cutesy song “This is an Adventure” follows, as well as the ballad “Iron Doors.” “Iron Doors” is soft and timid at first, but quickly escalates into an evocative masterpiece that falls well into the ballad category. It’s one of my favorites by them as well. However, my absolute favorite LATW song would definitely definitely have to be the gorgeous song “We’ve Got The Most.” That first chord that Michael LoPresti sings is nothing short of pure magic, and it weightlessly hangs in the air well after it’s been sung.  The song then erupts into colorful violin instrumentals, dynamic drums, and of course, meaningful lyrics. It’s a song that never fails to remind me of my friends and the experiences we all shared together, and it makes me incredibly hopeful for the future in general. This is an Adventure was definitely a step in the right direction, and I believe that the band has now found their perfect sound. It matches their personalities, and exudes a wonderful sense of realization and happiness.

The Lighthouse and the Whaler is a band that tend to go with the flow musically. They experiment with different sounds and genres, but always maintain a sense of self-awareness. I love them because they never fail to make me happy on the darkest of days, simply because their music beautifully encapsulates the joys of brotherhood/sisterhood, a summer filled with new experiences and adventures, and as well as the hope that someday you will also be able to experience these things first hand. These songs are just a way to stay inspired.

 

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Tropics – “Home & Consonance”

tropics_homeconsoncanceTropics is a indie dream pop band from England. The main member, singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Ward, has a voice that is smooth, passionate, and mysterious, and when it’s paired with his sleepy, waltz-like electronic music, the result is extraordinary. It’s the perfect blend of nostalgia, sadness, and hopefulness, which is pretty much his aesthetic. In this song titled “Home & Consonance”, all of these elements are seen. The lyrics reflect the pain from being apart from the ones you love, and the bitterness of that pain as a result. “Home & Consonance” was released in 2013 on an EP of the same name, and is the perfect emotional follow up to his older, more upbeat EP Popup Cinema. This only goes to show how versatile and well-rounded Tropics really is, and how his music can apply to a world of different listeners.

 

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