For all intensive purposes, Alt-J are your everyday buzz band – almost embarrassingly to the letter, as their triangle-obsessed nature attests. This is why their stratospheric rise from bloggers favourite to Mercury-Prize winner remains one of 2012’s most interesting stories. An Awesome Wave is a debut built upon unintelligible vocal gymnastics (just enough so to be quirky, yet still engaging), the melodies of In Rainbows-era Radiohead, the fusion of genre, and most importantly an abundance of hooks.
Tesselate – surely the alternative crowd’s sex jam of the year – glides along on gentle guitar plucks, percussion that sounds like ‘baby’s first drum kit’ (in the most flattering way possible), and Joe Newman’s vocals – at times a whisper, at others a smooth croon. Fitzpleasure follows the same formula but throws in a comparatively heavy electronic drop in order to keep it fresh. The lyrics are as dirty as you can get (‘in your snatch fits pleasure, a broom-shaped pleasure’), but the song as a whole is delivered so gracefully that anything below surface level becomes unimportant. Closer Taro nods to more thought-provoking exploration, both sonically and lyrically, detailing the deaths of two twentieth-century war photographers over an intimate backdrop before giving way to a surprising bangra sample and a beautiful outro.
It’s important to add that their sonic palette isn’t as original and innovative as most claim, but the success of An Awesome Wave – and this is something that often gets neglected when talking about this record – lies in what they use as opposed to how they use it. It’s a cynical view, but Alt-J have taken the sing-along choruses of Mumford and Sons and combined it with the organic and electronic tensions of a band such as Foals, adding in some sexually implicit lyrics just for good measure. Given the demand for each respective brand, it’s a recipe destined for success. They do well to keep the album length streamlined though; a song or two more (as opposed to interludes) may have exposed some unsettling weaknesses. However, as it stands, Alt-J have managed to create the quintessential British crossover debut of they year.