THE BLOG
01/22/2013 01:28 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Alt-J: Making Nerd Rock Sexy

Maybe I'm a sucker for melancholy, nonsensical lyrics, or maybe I'm just ready for a new-age Radiohead sound a like. Perhaps I enjoy a good synth melody coupled with a bass line so dubby you might think you're listening to a Bassnectar remix. Or maybe I just love Alt-J because they make really awesome music, as they've recognized in the title of their debut album An Awesome Wave.

Whatever the reason, all I know is that I can't stop listening to this album on repeat. I've not only begun to memorize the "lyrics," or what might be better described as mouth noises on certain tracks such as "Fitzpleasure," but I've even begun to memorize the track order which I feel like I haven't done since approximately 2006 when I still purchased music in compact disc form and listened to albums in their entirety while reading the liner notes with each song.

Gwil Sainsbury (guitar/bass), Joe Newman (guitar/vocal), Gus Unger-Hamilton (keyboards), and Thom Green (drums) met at Leeds University and began playing together in 2007. Since then they've been working laboriously on this full-length release, which dropped this past September. The lyrics "triangles are my favorite shape" heard on the single Tessellate, might reveal part of the motivation for the band's name, which when implemented on a Mac keyboard becomes ∆ (the Greek delta). But thankfully they have given us a letter representation of the symbol, because unfortunately a Google search of ∆ returns no results, and of course we wouldn't want to end up with another Prince debacle.

All great art takes time, so it's no wonder this album took five years to finish. Certain literary and cultural references in Alt-J's lyrics make it obvious that all of their songs on An Awesome Wave were very carefully composed. Indications of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, Hubert Selby Jr., as well as various cinema and photography references, make it clear that creative interpretation and philosophy were on the minds of these gentlemen during this process (and rightfully so seeing as they were in college at the time). The multiple mentions of geometry solidify this album as a work of intellectual rock... Okay, let's just call it what it is. It's nerd rock.

The adjectives weird, eccentric, and unique also come to mind, but it has to be recognized that this is largely because production plays such an important role on this album. While watching the group perform on NPR's Tiny Desk web concert series, it is evident that when they're performing live they sound much more like other popular contemporary rock musicians, and their folk influences really come out. But the electronic, synth, and heavy bass are a huge part of Alt-J's sound recognition, which really speaks to the producers of the album (Charlie Andrew and Mark Bishop) in addition to the band. The production on An Awesome Wave took some already talented musicians and helped them to create a record that is engaging and in many ways innovative.

At this point in their careers, I wouldn't credit Alt-J for being revolutionary or having a sound more inventive than others before them. As I mentioned, they have a lot of similarities to Radiohead, and they've also been compared to Wild Beasts. Yet they have made incredible strides in the past four months alone, including winning the U.K.'s 2012 Mercury Prize for best album. An Awesome Wave deserves to be recognized for the uniqueness it does posses, and above all the band's talent. And let's just be honest here... Alt-J makes nerd rock really sexy.

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