Anybody who feared that Alt-J’s Mercury Prize-scooping debut album was a welter of impenetrable, self-satisfied art-rock was hugely relieved when they finally heard An Awesome Wave. It is not without its angular, opaque moments, and it’s easy to see why some hapless soul coined the term “folkstep” to attempt to encapsulate its melding of folk, electronica, dubstep and barber-shop madrigals, but this is very much a pop album, and one rich in inventiveness, humanity and mercurial melodies.
Alt-J’s neat, layered music may be cerebral yet this braininess does not come at the expense of a visceral edge. The two lead-off singles, “Tessellate” and “Breezeblocks,” combine art-rock herky-jerkiness and melodic guile as well as Franz Ferdinand ever did: the sly, keening folk-pop of “Matilda,” named after Natalie Portman’s role in the movie Leon, is simply gorgeous. Singer Joe Newman’s strangulated vocal – occasionally evocative of Elmer Fudd – may prove an acquired taste, but he wields this eccentric tool to devastating effect on the twitchy electro-noir of “Fitzpleasure.” This is a fine album, packed with great tunes and surprises.