You’ve probably heard of them. In fact you’ve probably got this album… It’s taken me a while to get up to speed with Alt-J’s 2012 Mercury Prize-winning album An Awesome Wave for a number of reasons. Originally, I was put off by hearing a few songs off the album randomly and was slightly underwhelmed by them. Their name (actually spelled Δ, but called Alt-J as that is the keyboard shortcut for Delta) panged of wanky post-modern buffoonery. And they won the Mercury Music Prize.
Now I realise this may come across as slightly facetious, but the prize has a fairly mixed history. For every Elbow, Portishead or Arctic Monkeys who have won the prize, there has been some utter dross like Antony & The Johnsons and Speech Debelle. “Who?” You may ask… Well, quite. Even 2011’s winning XX album left me slightly cold, with only the excellent but brief Intro track actually striking me as anything more than dull (I have similar “issues” with Sigur Ros, feel free to abuse me below)… Anyhow I digress. For these reasons I was wary that Leeds Uni boys Alt-J could be another duff Mercury winner, until a friend (props Ollie Campbell) told me that it was an album that only worked in its entirety.
I’m a sucker for concept (or in this case multi-concept) albums, having been brought up on a diet of the likes of Pink Floyd and Genesis (and Elton John, but that’s my mother’s fault). One of my biggest gripes of the digital age of music is the ease with which people can stock their iPods (other MP3 players are available) with individual tracks. I mean why bother paying £6.99 for the whole album when you pick and choose the three songs you like for £2.50. Who cares about the other tracks, right? Wrong.
So kudos to Alt-J (ironically I can’t actually make their Delta symbol by actually pressing Alt+J on this computer, so I won’t bother) for making an album that almost exclusively works as one piece of music. Stylistically it’s fresh and original. It’s a bit Radiohead-y, a bit Wild Beasts-y, a bit Mystery Jets-y, a bit folky, a bit this, a bit that, a bit wooooah, a bit wheeeey (tangent: god I miss the Fast Show)… And so on. The chaps are clearly into their cultural references, the nod to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in Tessellate particularly brought a smile to my face, but never in a particularly “up their own arse” way. And that’s really the summation of the album, it’s certainly pretentious, but never in an offensive way. It’s big, it’s clever, but it wants to be your friend rather than patronise and belittle you.
It’s also absolutely terrific.
I don’t really want to supply a song, as none of the tracks on the album are as good individually as they are in the collective. But here is Breezeblocks, mainly as I like the video. Go buy the album and dedicate an hour to its entirety. You’ll thank me.
Well done Mercury, you might have got this one right.
by Harry Harland