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Alvvays

ALBUM REVIEWS:

Alvvays (2014)
Antisocialites (2017)


Alvvays (2014)

Album Score: 14/15

This gets me into a starry-eyed daze whenever I listen to it. I suppose that mean this has become one of my favorite albums ever. This album seems to be mainly characterized by its rich, dense jangle-pop atmospheres. They are nice to listen to, but they're not necessarily pretty, as there seems to be quite a solemn undercurrent to it all. Lead singer Molly Rankin has a deadpan delivery, a sound which is also one of this band's characteristic hallmarks. Good thing her voice has the sort of timber that can cut through these dense atmospheres like a warm knife through soft butter.

This is a fantastic debut, by the way, one of the best I've ever heard. Alvvays (pronounced “Always”) is a five-piece band that hails from Eastern Canada. (This is what the region of the world has done to make up for that Justin Bieber mess.) They released this album in 2014 to almost immediate acclaim. The song that got the most attention was “Archie, Marry Me,” which has a melody that I haven't been able to shake out of my mind since I first heard it—and it isn't going away anytime soon.

These guys—at this point anyway—don't experiment much with instrumentation or sound production. My guess would be, they developed this material in a garage and, when they went to the recording studio, didn't change the sound at all. They could have played this entire album live for all I can tell. The guitar tones don't really change, there aren't any post-production embellishments done to the vocals... even the settings on the keyboard remain constant, which is always a heavy, Mellotron-ish drone. Usually the drums are live, but a few songs use a drum machine. And even the drum machine I imagine coming from a box sitting in a garage. ...Of course, I am glad they didn't try to load this album with post-production tricks. When it comes to albums like this, charm is everything, and what is more charming than songs that sound like they were born out of a garage?

There was the funny thing about listening to this album about 100 times over the last year or so. The more I got into it, different songs started to pop out at me. The accessible melody of “Archie, Marry Me” was the thing I latched onto immediately. A few listens later I really started to like “Atop a Cake,” which starts out with an evocative, jangly guitar before—rather surprisingly—a danceable rhythm pipes up.

Then I started noticing other songs, particularly “Ones Who Love You,” which is a little more down-low and Rankin sings with a haunting coo. I can't really pick a favorite song here, but “Next of Kin” had earned that title at one time--maybe around my 25th listen. That's a rare sort of song, a bittersweet thing that actually makes me feel nostalgic about someone else's memory. Aren't these out-of-body experiences what art is supposed to do?

What's prompting me to give this album such a high rating is simply that I keep listening to it, and it still gives me surprises. Almost all of the melodies here are loaded continuously with twists with beautiful surprises at almost every corner. Like how the chorus of "One Who Loves You" seems to just come out of nowhere, or that chilling middle-eight section in "Party Police." There is so much to talk about here! These songs are generally quite short, but they are so densely layered and fascinating to listen to, I wonder how on earth could they be so short? Do you know who also wrote pop music like this? ...The Beatles.

Somehow, Alvvays are going to continue on as a band and going to continue to release albums, and I somehow doubt they're going to be able to match this debut, much less top it. But something tells me everything they do here on out is going to be great, and I'm looking forward to a lifetime of hotly anticipating every release.

Read the track reviews here!


Antisocialites (2017)

Album Score: 14/15

Alvvays, as you might recall (especially since it’s higher up on this page), released their debut in 2014, and I completely fell in love with it. I gave the album a 14, and I didn’t care whether that would be perceived as “overrating” it or if people might be irritated with me for giving it the same rating as such classic rock behemoths as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home. I didn’t even care that the album sounded like came out of a garage or that the band was some barely-known, scrappy outfit from some barely-known Canadian city (Toronto). Maybe all those things were plusses in my eyes. Thusly, I could do no else than to pull the trigger and give the album an enthusiastic 14.

With regards to this follow-up, I did spend a lot of effort debating with myself whether I really needed to give it a 14 as well. Shockingly so, these guys managed to create lightening twice. This album is as wholly delightful as their debut, if not more so. The melodies are just as infectious; the distinctly melancholic lyrics that continue to center mainly around lost love are still evocative; and the song variety and their signature thick, hazy musical textures might even be slightly improved. (That is, instead of this album sounding like it was recorded in somebody’s garage, they moved into the backroom of a Wal-Mart.) The only reason I would hesitate to give this another 14 is because nothing here strikes me as iconic as their indie-pop behemoth single “Marry Me, Archie” or gives me shivers down my spine quite like “Party Police” or “Next of Kin.” But, my God, I still find their style bedazzling; all of these songs are beautiful and dream-like, and I find it all-too-easy to get caught up in their glowing atmospheres.

The upbeat numbers are going to, perhaps expectedly, constitute my most favorite moments here, but when it comes down to it, I pretty much love everything. “Lollipop (Ode to Jim),” which seems to be a sincere tribute to Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain, is the one that infects my brain the most. I mean, the song is so insatiable that I’ve had it running through my head a lot when I’m off doing things in my normal life. (I have a normal life?) “Plimsoll Punks” and “Your Type” are both frenzied, exciting songs, and “Saved By a Waif” (formerly known as “New Haircut”) I can’t get enough of. Another one of my favorites is the dense and intoxicating “Dreams Tonite,” a song that I just want to waft dreamily to, and the those pleading inquiries, throughout the album’s closing track “Forget About Life” will forever be stuck in my head.

Well I could gush about all of these songs, which is I do in the track reviews, so you can continue reading there if you feel so inclined. Really, it’s amazing to me these guys managed to produce such a strong follow-up. And the reason I think it worked out so well for them: They didn’t deviate too much from their original style, and they took their time with it. I’d seen these guys in concert approximately 4 times (so far) and even well before the release of this sophomore album, I was hearing them size up some of these songs in front of the crowd. Yep, many of those songs eventually made it on this record. And my memory is hazy, but I believe they performed other songs that didn’t even make the album. (However, I can’t seem to find any proof they did that. But maybe I’ll just let this remain, festering in my mind, as part of their legend.)

Read the track reviews here!


All reviews are written by Michael Lawrence.