I had initially been holding this one back for my annual list of the year's most overrated albums but eventually put aside my industry cynicism and bagged a copy this week. I'm still yet to be fully convinced that Alt-J are the sound of 2012 rather than just another wanky art school project but 'An Awesome Wave' has enough on it to merit repeated listens and there's at least half a really killer album here. There seems to be a section of the music press that panics every time it dawns on them that there's not going to be a new Radiohead album for a while and suddenly starts looking for a younger substitute to cream themselves over - Alt-J seem to have swept up the critical plaudits in this bracket alongside Breton and Django Django (about whom the boy Sykes has yet to fully make up his mind) but that's no reason to write them off entirely. The softly-stated vibe and multi-layered instrumental sound of late period 'head is present here and those of you who play 'In Rainbows' on a regular basis will surely find much to like on 'An Awesome Wave' so it's probably a shoe-in for a prominent placing on the end of year 'best album' polls. If that's enough praise to get you interested then great, although I for one still feel a little short-changed - I can take or leave Radiohead's music but even as a casual fan I can respect the route they've taken to get where they are today from their earlier incarnations, nailing the alternative rock formula but knowing when to change their game to avoid getting stale. Deep down you know that they could still bust out the visceral 'KER-CHUMPF!' guitar sound on 'Creep' if they wanted to - Alt-J may have nailed the 'music that won't wake the baby' bracket but do they have a back-up plan? Still, cynicism aside this is still a pretty enthralling listen - the band avoid churning out any obvious radio hits but there are plenty of highlights on show here. Singles 'Breezeblocks' and 'Tessellate' provide early high points, the former allowing a chunky keyboard riff into the mix without letting it dominate and the latter providing the closest thing they have to a seductive moment (expect the chat-up line 'Let's tessellate' to be followed by audible face slaps across the nation's dancefloors before too long). It gets better too, the mid-album twinstrike of 'Something Good' and 'Dissolve Me' seeing them take off and actually start to rock, albeit very gently - you'll be hearing at least one of those tracks in a BBC montage fairly soon, if indeed it hasn't happened already. Unfortunately the wave of relative awesomeness abates soon afterwards and you're left with an extended comedown incorporating the Keane-esque 'Matilda' and a series of attempted album-closers, none of them truly committed to drawing a line under proceedings. It kinda reminds me of the way Bloc Party's first album sorta trailed off because they'd run through all their singles and not really bothered to pen a proper showcloser - if that comparison stands then Alt-J might be onto something, although if the singles on show here are 2012's equivalent of 'Banquet' and 'Helicopter' then the UK's musical tastes really have gotten too gentle for my liking. They could liven things up by trimming off the three totally redundant Interludes and the 'Intro' for starters - what do you think this is, a fucking 2pac album??? Festival dads, riff-phobic Guardian readers and latter-day Radiohead fanatics will probably love this album and the current vogue for nice, well brought up young men in British culture will see Alt-J rake it in over coming months with TV tie-ins, slavering media coverage and some serious placated festival performances. And good for them. I'll gonna dip into this the same way I did with The XX, Bon Iver and the rest of the current crop of understated art school indie - it'll get an airing in the wee small hours from time to time and I might crop a track or two for my indie playlists but you're not gonna hear me wack this shit on when I'm getting ready to go out or anything. 2012 will yield many more thrilling listens but 'An Awesome Wave' still has enough to warrant the detour if you've got the time.
Check out : 'Dissolve Me', the most understated hands-in-a-de-air moment you'll hear all year.