When 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.
Year of the Album — #005
Phoenix – “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”
V2 Records (2009)
Similar Albums: Spoon – “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” (Spunk Records, 2007)
Hot Chip – “Made In The Dark” (EMI, 2008)
Sometimes a band can float just outside your consciousness without actually making enough of an impact for you to hear the album when it first impacts the scene. Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is one of those albums for me. I had heard “Lisztomania” and “1901” when they were alternative hits, and I’d been aware of the band’s 2010 grammy win for “Best Alternative Album,” but for some reason I never gave their full album a listen until recently. Big mistake on my part! If I’d known this French Alternatronic album would pack as much of a punch, I’d have been enjoying it since its 2009 release.
This is the kind of classic alternative album which has risen phoenix-like from the ashes of the 90s, and it’s worthy of all the praise it has received. “1901” in particular is an earworm of massive proportions, and if you don’t think you’ve heard it before, you have – you just, like me, never made the connection. Fans of Daft Punk, Hot Chip, Spoon and any number of other alternative-electronic hybrids will find a lot to enjoy here, and the album’s hardly been overexposed. What’s more of a surprise is that the band hadn’t found success in America with their first three albums. Clearly they’re an act with staying power, and for fans of addictive alternative, it’s imperative that we keep them in the spotlight long enough for their next album to attain similar success.
Bottom line: if you’ve been listening to this album since 2009, maybe it’s a good time to dig it back out for a few more spins. And if, like me, you’re finding it for the first time, enjoy the moment! Revel in it. This is what great alternative is made of, and many of today’s young up-and-comers could stand to give it a few listens to learn how it’s really done.