So begins an attempt to review all the 2012 Mercury Prize nominees before the actual ceremony renders it all a bit pointless.
Alt-J have been dubbed favourites by many and received 6/1 odds from The Independent, making them joint second with Django Django on their list.
Alternative electro stylings like these are no stranger to Mercury nominations, and this nomination makes alt-J and their electro pop peers Django Django this year’s equivalent of Metronomy and Everything Everything last year, Foals the year before and Friendly Fires and The Horrors in 2009. It is interesting to note that none of these bands took home the prize. 2010’s winners The xx, though not being entirely comparable, are probably the closest thing to their sound to win the prize in recent years. Does this neglection of the electro mean the odds are actually stacked against alt-J? It’s impossible to say, but I think it could be time for a nod to this ever-growing scene from the Mercury judges.
The album itself is a delight, mixing patches of easy listening with festival-sized anthems and an abundance of originality. Singles ‘Tessellate’ and ‘Breezeblocks’ are as catchy as anything on the list combining the lyrical speed and skill of Everything Everything with the heady basslines of early Bombay Bicycle Club singles and the synth wizzardry of Hot Chip. The songs have a lot of heart to them too, something which occasionally lacks in this genre; ‘Tessellate’ is the most intellectual track ever written about spooning and ‘Breezeblocks’ details the protagonist’s desire to keep a hold of his lover by (presumably metaphorically) tying her down with soggy clothes and the eponymous blocks. This track builds from a lament about affection-free texting (‘never kisses - all you ever send are full stops’) to a full blown singalong refrain of ‘please don’t go, I’ll eat you whole, I love you so, I love you so’. It’s a beautiful ballad which demands a place on any and all favourites playlists.
The band pull on your heartstrings furthermore with ‘Matilda’ and ‘Disolve Me’. The former, a reference to the film Leon by Luc Besson, combines acoustic guitars with a short story arguably about lovers with varying levels of success (‘my defeat sleeps top to toe with her success’) while the latter simply adds a poppy synth riff and techo-ish cymbal-hits to a description of Joe’s childhood bedtime routine with his mother (‘she makes the sound the sea makes to calm me down’) - it’s a euphoric number but the narrative lead by Joe’s emotions and memories keeps the song rooted in reality, avoiding any risk of stadium-aiming lyrically empty pop.
Furthering this emphasis on lyrical integrity the a cappella interlude ‘Ripe and Ruin’ is a particular highlight in which singer Joe Newman shows off his incredible voice and lyrical skill in a short story about a step-counting female acquaintance.
This is only the start of my delving into the Mercury noms this year, but on first impression alt-J would be very worthy winners - this album has literally everything you could want - instrumental skill, brilliant lyrics, top production and catchy singles.
An Awesome Wave is out now on Infectious.
You can currently stream the album for free here: