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Alt-J: The World of Experimental Sound

Subtle eccentrics of indie rock with complacent sound-experiments, bring Alt-J into the spotlight as critically acclaimed and award-winning.

An Awesome Wave

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Alt-J: a name raised from the delta symbol that is made when hitting Alt and J on a Mac keyboard, their smoothie blend of folky dub-pop became their signatory work and was first brought to attention in such singles, Matilda and Fitzpleasure in 2012.

Oddly arranged in structure and the ample choosing of percussion, we were pleasantly surprised to find out they had done a full-length debut album using those same sounds.

An Awesome Wave was released in the same year of 2012, and amassed a worthy following instantly –

including myself.

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Being one of the first to purchase the album via iTunes … trailing through the Earth’s atmosphere or merely jumping amongst cityscapes with your earbuds in … is how I would describe Alt-J’s music tellings.

Musically, it’s simple but it’s genuinely clever.

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Doing something that hadn’t really been done anything on this scale before – certainly not from an original quartet of artists – An Awesome Wave allowed them to earn their first prestigious Mercury Prize in the world of music – not to mention three nominations from the The Brit Awards.

With a 14-piece artwork that does not require a single skip – favourites including Something Good and Dissolve Me – it has soon become a staple of this pleasurable folk-indie vibe sort of music.

Its such a rarity to explore experimental sounds, odd in structure and percussion to deliver such an album that resonated with so many people. I think the sheer simplicity of it and the ever-so-present relaxing setting you get in there music has been there from day one. Wherever the band manages to end up on their next work, their art of morbid curiosity is a sight to behold.

This is All Yours

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Despite the temperament changing in the Alt-J camp after the bassist of Gwil Sainsbury’s departing in 2013, they remained true to their colours and followed up with their second, This is All Yours, in 2014.

Rhythm and space were their desired bread and butter – and that certainly didn’t change or deter at all with this follow-up.

Whilst This is All Yours did not share the same involvement concerning numbers or critical acclaim compared to that of the first, it just so happened to feature elements of extended beauty in songs that stretched for more minutes, which left the band to experiment more, without the worry of having to hold back to suit the status quo with the dreaded second album. It hinted at moments from their debut, with playful Left Hand Free and Every Other Freckle

… but also hinted at a changing landscape for the band, a maturity to their music, almost. Elluring two-parter, Arrival in Nara and Nara, which draws up a playing time of 9 minutes, allowed the band to create conceptual moments that translated well in a far deeper song structure. Overall, This is All Yours had an 8-minute longer playing time than An Awesome Wave, but you could say had a deeper meaning behind it.

Relaxer

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In early 2017, they soon departed ways with their vibrant colours and approached their third studio album with a somewhat darker presence, with the release of the trio 3WW, In Cold Blood and Adeline in 2017. Same year, in June? Enter, Relaxer.

Although short in a track listing of just eight, it certainly makes up for its playtime of 38 minutes. Although not doing as successful as the prior two, Relaxer is a diluted version of their sounds – but nonetheless equally ambitious. House of the Rising Sun and Deadcrush are beautiful moments that I will always wish were longer, despite them being long enough as they are.

It may also feature future sounds that we may expect to hear from their potential fourth studio album? Last Year and Pleader delves into far more traditional sounds of other orchestral instruments – including the uproar of a choir during the lasting moments in Pleaser – and even has a female vocalist adding elements into the fold that we hadn’t really heard of before.

Whatever they have in store for us in the coming year or so, I’m sure it’s set to be a delight for all of us.

Equally delightful in sound and presentation, Alt-J are a folk-inflected, indie-smooth topping that is perfect for any casual music listener.

Give their track-load a listen below.

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Ben Howard – ‘Collections from the Whiteout’ Album Review

Striking the distance between the strange and the curious, Collections from the Whiteout draws everlasting collaborations – but holds its own with Howard still prevalent as the inventive singer-songwriter.

If I told you that Aaron Dessner of The National had a major hand in producing and spinning his thoughts into Howard’s fourth successive album, you’d instantly understand it’s thought-process. A simply inventive piece of studio production, it merely avoids the dooming darkness that we saw on predecessors Noonday Dream and I Forget Where We Were, and brings a new intriguing oddity to his writing work.

Despite lacking its consistent catchy flings that we saw in amicable favourites Keep Your Head Up and Only Love, from his loveable debut, Every Kingdom back in 2011 – the elusive narratives, rustic thrills and heart-ache guitar pangs from Dessner make it an album worth writing about.

As he careens from his original path of the folk/vocal combo and instead diving into a distortion of electronics, it just tells us more about what kind of singer-songwriter Ben Howard is. Compelling, inventive and simply unafraid to embrace change.

With single stand-outs few and far between – as it’s best as a collectiveSorry Kid, Crowhurst’s Meme and Finders Keepers are some of my favourites from the 14-track album. With themes less thought-provoking but rather taken straight from snapshots of news articles, the album is rife with collaborations and inspiration from seven co-collaborators who all have a hand-in making Howard’s next masterpiece.

While it may veer away from Howard’s original sound and sometimes veer off too much, it still manages to keep itself grounded allowing Ben to still flourish in moments of bitter-sweet beauty. While it’s a saddening moment to not hear Howard again flex his own acoustic compassion and folky vibes from Every Kingdom, just the musical journey alone he is undertaking is good enough for me.

Other album reviews for this month:

Kings of Leon’s When You See Yourself

Aloe Blacc’s All Love Everything