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I feel like I’m playing catch-up to all the large industry reviews when it comes to Alt-J and the feedback of their freshman album An Awesome Wave. However that said, I’ve given the album more than a few entries on my playlist and inspected the lyrics, as Holmes inspects his clues, for obscure and obtuse relationships that may not be realized during a skin deep Pitchfork review.
The album has been in some form of production for four years and the critics have been waiting with bated breath. With expectations so high and anticipation ever growing for this release, I’m not surprised that this album received such low remarks from its initial critics; when you’re expecting a ten and you get a nine you’re going to be disappointed, even though it’s still a nine! My immediate criticism with the big name reviewers is that it feels the reviews are seeking flaws in relation to the album and/or artist expectations, rather than concentrating independently on the music to which they are listening.
Pitchfork writes Alt-J as a runner-up wannabe to their accomplice comparative bands, namely Wild Beasts, referencing each band’s individualistic similarities in style and “oddly voiced singers.” Although I can appreciate folding in the word priapism to any conversation, it bothers me that the reviewer wasn’t particularly “moved” by this album. At first I was upset that the album only received a 4.8 rating however seeing that Laura Snapes’s reviews range between a 4 and an 8 (minus two poor showings), it doesn’t appear to me that she gets that excited about most of the work she reviews (granted she’s a far better writer than I).
The song Tessellate has gained the attention of Brits and Americans alike, and elevated the band to a prominence that landed them the 2012 Mercury Prize in November. As important and exciting as this may be for the artist, to me this is one of their weakest entries off the album. Perhaps I’m upset because the album offers much more than the studio-crafted version of Tessellate; although I have no insight into the group’s objective when issuing this as their first single.
Breezeblocks brings more energy and playful melodies to the album than Tessellate, however still does not impress me as one of their finer tracks. The video however paints a graphic story of a “murder by breeze block” (cinder block for us Americans), only played from back to front stylistically similar to Momento. Also notable and probably my favorite to this point in the review is Fitzpleasure, a song filled with grit and grime and disgusting lyrics based on a book by Hubert Selby Jr. With its great bass track, guitar riffs, and accompanying synthesizer, this song is quite appealing to the ear. Unfortunately after listening to and reading the lyrics, the song depicts a gang rape of the character Tralala who is mentioned in the first line. I still enjoy listening to the song, but after gathering the meaning I have lost a little respect for the band for capitalizing on the rape, although fictional, of a woman.
Finally we come to my favorite track on the album; one that I hope is released at some time in the near future. Dissolve Me is a song that quite simply whisks you away for a brief three minutes; from the harsh realities of the world to one filled with joy, love, sleep, and psychedelic drug use! The song title is referenced in the track’s opening line, “Now dissolve me, two tabs on your tongue,” hinting that the author is suggesting LSD, or other playful mind-altering drug, relieve him of his personal woes. The sound resonates both physically with reverb and emotionally of grief, but doesn’t seem to take away from the simplicity that the listener is presented but rather adds to the chemical appeal.
For what it’s worth I give this album a ‘Buy It’ rating (temporarily borrowing the rating scale from the guys at Sound Opinions). Not my favorite album of the year but certainly better than many. If I were writing for Pitchfork I might also give this a mediocre score given all of the new work that came out in 2012, but I’d at least give it a score that tips above the halfway point (let’s give it a 5.5 just for fun!).
I’m headed to the show next Thursday at the Union Transfer in Philadelphia and may have more to report back at that time. Until then, enjoy the album!