∆ – An Awesome Wave

Consisting of four indie literati boys of Leeds, UK University alumni glory, ∆ (pronounced Alt J) have released their debut album, An Awesome Wave, and it’s Œ with a bit of Ǿ. Jokes aside, An Awesome Wave is an early indication of what these lads can produce: an early Yeasayer bohemia sparseness tinged with electro otherworldly inflections, and mix it in with soulful vocals from Joe Newman and it’s an aurally aesthetic record. And while the themes of lost love can fall into the background, ∆ demonstrate musicianship class, utilising a myriad of musical techniques so confidently, proving that the product can be greater than the sum of its parts. It’s music that has a dichotomy – gentle and reflective, yet containing a good level of tension too. 
After an epic Explosions in the Sky-washed intro with mumbled Chet Faker-style vocals on “Intro”, and then another intro (!) called “Interlude 1” where the early Yeasayer seeps in with echoed harmony work, ‘first’ track “Tesselate” sets the tone. It kicks in with haunted smashing of keys, with robotic drumming. It’s cool, it hangs low – it’ll get heads bopping. Smoothly into the next track, “Breezeblocks” has crooning punctuated with staccato keys, perfect imagery for flashes of light onstage. Even the light drumming contains a certain level of  intensity before the outro rings in with a tense heartbreak scene in a display of vocal gymnastics.
“Interlude 2” draws the listeners in with the gentleness, fingers sliding up guitar strings for a short softly spoken number. Brush-like pitter-patter of the drums like rain on a tin sheet start “Something Good”, a track steeped in a pensive regret even when the keyboards flourish and flutter before the release. “Dissolve Me” seems reminiscent of a drugged-out former self, with an eerie TVOTR-style heavy bass permeating the track. The track echoes like you’re in a cathedral, even when the prechorus is slowed down and the instruments absent; that’s when those oooohs get very echo-y.
“Matilda” is a dual-layered vocals one that misses the mark due to its over-the-top saccharine quality. It might resonate with some people, but something is amiss. Regardless, it’s after that that ∆ hit their stride. “MS” has Christmas toy tinkering bells with a capella until that final oooooh where a Grizzly Bear guitar strum chimes in so perfectly before breaking into something beautiful, music that floats on its own.
Now “Fitzpleasure” is a standout. It changes constantly from a capella tribal speak and experimental ticking intro which jumps to a fully immersive bass drop and guitar/keyboard combo which is light and gentle, then finally coming to a Black Angels-like track (unintelligible vocals, fuzz bass, an echoed guitar, everything in the right measures). And the “Twist and Shout”-style build-up before the release is tense. Excellent.
Another misstep, “Interlude 3” has choir soundtracking with synths but “Bloodflood” redeems, bringing back the early Yeasayer sound: sparse, and almost plodding. Luckily, ∆ know how to round off an album. “Taro” is Middle Eastern-flavoured with a touch of strings. With near a minute of nursery rhyme cadence and playfulness, and some hurt moans, the instrumental section kicks early on and carries before dissolving into itself.
Like a decapitated band with no idea as to where to, ahem, head, An Awesome Wave is a band with many hands giving their listeners that awesome wave. Let’s just hope it’s not a wave goodbye, but a pleasure-to-meet-you one.
by David Claridad

May 25th 2012
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