Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave pushes the boundaries of audacious art-rock, the year’s first outright stunner

Alt-J

Alt J An Awesome WaveWhen I first heard Alt-J’s genre-slaughtering blend of dubstep, alternative pop and infectious art-rock, I didn’t believe my ears. I searched for these songs in as many iterations as possible, reaching for what made them so damned explosive. Clearly there’s a reason the album An Awesome Wave is a front-runner for England’s prestigious Mercury Prize — these college students turned alt-music saviors don’t care about the lines they’re about to obliterate. They’re simply out to make music that makes you feel something.

The album plays best as a whole, letting the art-rock through-line electrify the circuit. Still, for such a high-concept piece of experimentation, An Awesome Wave brims full of staggeringly infectious melodies. “Fitzpleasure” on its own serves as their ultimate example, almost Jethro Tull-ish in its ability to morph through countless genres and mini-songs in the course of a four minute pop jam. It also benefits from the dirtiest lyric ever to sneak its way into an otherwise radio-worthy hook. This is Dark Side of the Moon meets Hot Chip, and the mad juxtapositions stack the deck. You cannot listen to this and not want to move! It’s an unimpeachable imperative.

Music fans willing to subvert their expectations and delve into an album which is as much pop as artful, daring genre exploration will find much to savor about Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave. By decimating the line between art-rock and the mainstream, the band creates new horizons for every listener who confesses to give a shit about music as a creative art-form. Google around every corner, layers upon layers make this the year’s most surprising outright stunner.

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ARTISTS TO WATCH: Frenetics

Frenetics

Leeds-based rockers Frenetics revive the classic muscular rhythms and ear-catching melodies of 70s era garage punk. In turn they’re dragging their influences, everyone from Television to Iggy Pop, kicking and screaming into the modern rock world. “Ella” is a single which sticks to the inner reaches of the skull upon even a cursory listen, and though there’s nothing particularly forward-reaching about the single, the band clearly romanticizes those figures of the British music scene who played a huge role in developing punk music in the first place. So bringing some attention back to the sounds of a genre’s birth seems appropriate if they’re soon to be taking the lead in pushing said music into the future.

The band’s EP Broken Hands will be released on June 11th, and it further showcases their musical direction. “Satellites” is a tight production which owes more to bands like the Hives in the way they craft the ear-catching hook at the chorus. “See You On The Other Side” features blistering guitars and a wall of thundering percussion to back up the immediately singable title line. But it’s the unforgettable “Swing Kids” which will draw you in for good — given the chance to slow things down and illuminate the depth of their musical chops, it’s hard not to think of bands like Oasis, who were as capable of looking to the past for inspiration as they were at pushing modern alternatives to fans ready and willing to rock. This is definitely a band you’ll want to keep on your radar.

FREE MP3: Tribes – “We Were Children”

Tribes

Tribes -- rock and roll lives!

DOWNLOAD (MP3)Tribes – “We Were Children”

This one reminds me of that Pixies song that plays at the end of Fight Club … one of those memorable hooks you’ll want to hear as many times as you can to let it sink all the way in. The band, based in Camden, England, is an “it’s about time” return to straight-up rock & roll melodic guitar riffs, anthemic tunes, and they’re doing it all themselves, working these songs from the ground up and earning the acclaim. Inspired by Pavement, Nirvana, the Libertines — any of those 90s-era rockers who dared to twist conventions while crafting songs which have stood strong through two decades — Tribes are going to hit you hard and fast, and they’ll hope you’ll agree their music has the potential to stick around as well. Their EP We Were Children came out on Universal Republic in late November, and they’ll be dropping a full-length at some point in 2012, so there’s still plenty of time to check them out and become a convert to the sound. Once you do you won’t want to stop listening — take it from an addict with no particular need for recovery.

ARTISTS TO WATCH: Boat To Row

 

Boat To Row

Midlands, England's folk-pop quintet Boat to Row

I stumbled on these guys by complete accident, but if American music execs are smart about it, they’ll make signing Boat to Row no accident. This Midlands, England folk-pop quintet has the chops to create addictive hybrids that stick in your head while being quite unlike anything else you’ve heard lately … except maybe for a more restrained Mumford & Sons if you’re desperate for comparisons. More important, they’ve got the live chops many young bands never take the time to develop. Check out a few of their live YouTube clips below and decide for yourselves.

What blows my mind is that this is supposedly a mere “side project” for lead singer Michael King, who’s better known in the region for his band YOUVES. And if the distinct difference in styles between the two (dance-punk vs. folk-pop) suggest anything, it’s that King could be Britain’s next Dustin Kensrue, capable of moving at will from the metal world of Thrice (“The Abolition Of Man”) to that of his solo country work (“Pistol”) without breaking a sweat.

Trust me, American listeners are ready for a lot more of that kind of thing!

Visit the band’s MySpace page for more music, and get “Autumn Glow” as a name your own price single at Bandcamp.