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‘An Awesome Wave’ comes with an entrance exam – ‘Intro’ (a piano-lead track as cinematic and swelling with emotion as any you’ll hear open a record in 2012) and ‘Rack and Ruin’, a spidery a capella interlude from deep within an English forest as early as track two. The idea is that if you can make it through these first couple of songs you’ll love ∆’s debut album. Like, really love it.

Like all exams, the true horror is really only in the anticipation. In reality, you might love these difficult openers just as much as anything else here; especially ‘Intro’ – as show-stealing as The xx’s track of the same name. It pitches ∆ as complicated thinkers in wide-screen folktronica, and the rest of ‘An Awesome Wave’ is no less smart, erudite or dusted with fleeting, magical details. It is, well, awesome.

‘Matilda’ – the band’s biggest ‘hit’ to date – is perhaps the one track that ‘An Awesome Wave’ could jettison, out classed by the less straight forward songs (like ‘Fitzpleasure’ with its dirty bass, group chants and double dutch lyrics, and ‘Dissolve Me’ with its peaks and troughs and a synth hook that’ll probably make it the band’s next single); out romanced by the album’s heartfelt ballads ‘Something Good’ and ‘Ms’.

The more you listen the more complex you realise these songs are, and the harder it becomes to sum any of them up, not least because ∆ have taken influences from hip-hop, folk, indie and electronica to make something experimental, unusually original, a touch bonkers and yet completely digestible, unlike some of Dirty Projectors’ uncompromising output, a band that ∆ seem to share a certain genius gene with. If one moment comes close, though, it happens during the tangled, vocally harmonious outro of ‘Breezeblocks’. As singer Joe Newman pleads “please don’t go / I love you so” and his band do the same, they all yell, just once, “hey!”. Just once, mind. It’s a minor, half-second facet, and yet you’d notice if it wasn’t there. That – the intricacies that go as soon as they come – sums up the true magic of ‘An Awesome Wave’: every single sound, no matter how small, has been purposely placed where you find it. These are not songs that have been bashed together, even if the melodies at the heart of them are strong enough without the subtle bells and whistles that make this album sound so sophisticated.

By the end (‘Taro’, a song about fated war photographer Gerda Taro who was killed by a tank in 1937, and one that throws Indian instruments into an already full pot) you have to considering how almost perfect ∆’s debut album is, but also just how likely it is that you’ll be able to call what they’ll do next. These are just the band’s initial ideas, you feel, and they really are quite stunning.

By Austin Laike

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