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.
An 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.