Best of the B Sides: “Taro”

Alt-J made quite an impression on me this summer. Both my brother and a friend mentioned the band in passing and it wasn’t until I heard “Taro” that I sat up and took notice. Their debut album An Awesome Wave (2012) is a stunning album. There isn’t a single bad track on the whole thing. It’s in a league of its own, in many ways, somewhere between indie rock, electronic, new wave, and world music. It’s a beautiful and clean play, from start to finish, complete with interludes scattered between tracks. When it comes to musical innovation, Alt-J seem to be ahead of the curve. An Awesome Wave is intoxicating, gorgeous, and totally fresh. The band released several singles to accompany the album, but the most prominent is certainly “Tesselate“, the most commercially palatable song on the album. And while “Tesselate” is an excellent track in its own right, there’s a majesty to “Taro” that I need to lay down here for this week’s b side.

Maybe I’m biased since “Taro” was the first Alt-J song I ever heard, but I think it’s the masterpiece of the album. And that’s saying something considering how fantastic every track is. But there’s a focus and a precision to “Taro” that makes it stand out. It’s unassuming, meditative, experimental, and innovative. There’s a neat combination of more traditional guitar, the delightfully bizarre vocals of frontman Gus Unger-Hamilton, and song breaks with a distinctly eastern sound. This is a song that’s hard to place in time or location. It’s entirely unique and takes advantage of a lot of plainly beautiful sounds; the addition of cello is a subtle but gorgeous undertone to everything. When songs exceed the traditional 3:50/4:00 mark, there’s really focused intent on artistry, and there’s a definite art rock feel to Alt-J’s work, especially “Taro”. The track requires intent listening for all of the layers to unfold, and when they do unfold and climax into the instrumental section, there’s a surprising and beautiful payoff for the listener. All told, Alt-J are mixing instruments and ideas in such a way that An Awesome Wave sounds like no other album out there today.

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