Alt J Album is a Triumph of Marketing over Music.

Alt-J-An_Awesome_Wave-FrontalAlt J’s debut album An Awe­some Wave was favourite for and duly won last year’s Mer­cury Music prize in the UK. Noth­ing nec­es­sar­i­ly wrong with that.

The xx won it in 2010 with their debut (I reviewed their excel­lent fol­low-up here), and pre­vi­ous win­ners include Por­tishead and P.J. Har­vey, the only one so far to have won it twice. 

But Alt J were omit­ted from as many Best Of lists at the end of last year as they were includ­ed in. 

Their sup­port­ers will tell you that that’s because, like Joan­na New­som, the sound that their lead singer makes divides peo­ple, Mar­mite-like, straight down the mid­dle. Enchant­i­ng as many as it infuriates.

One of whom, by the bye is the oth­er­wise bul­let proof Bob Boilen of NPR’s fab All Songs Con­sid­ered, the pod­cast of which I reviewed ear­li­er here.

In real­i­ty though, when you do get around to actu­al­ly lis­ten­ing to the much trum­pet­ed work, it’s crash­ing­ly under­whelm­ing. As Gertrude Stein said famous­ly of Oak­land Cal­i­for­nia, “there’s no there there”.

It’s per­fect­ly com­pe­tent­ly pro­duced, and sounds reas­sur­ing­ly slick. And the ubiq­ui­tous, propul­sive sin­gle, “Tes­sel­late” is a jaun­ty lit­tle num­ber that promis­es much. But, with the excep­tion of the catchy “Matil­da”, none of the rest of the album lives up to it. 

107974Instead, as the review in Pitch­fork sug­gests here, where it gets a dis­mis­sive 4.8, there’s an unmis­tak­able air of fab­ri­ca­tion, both to the album and to the band in general. 

What we have here in oth­er words is this year’s Mum­ford and Sons. But in place of the cod authen­tic­i­ty that Mum­ford use to cloak their vacu­ity, Alt J rely instead on the pro­jec­tion of a dif­fi­dent quirk­i­ness. Both add up to the same thing though; the emper­or’s new clothes.

And whilst of course there is as much room in this world for man­u­fac­tured indie boy bands as there is for their pop-idol coun­ter­parts, the M(ercury) peo­ple real­ly ought to have known better.

You can see the video for the sin­gle here. 

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