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Adult Diversion A+
Hm, the point of me writing track reviews—normally—is to help me come up with things to say in the main body of the review. However, I knew this album so well that I already finished writing the body! That's OK, though... I can actually use these track reviews to talk about things I didn't get around to talking about. For instance, this explosive opener. Can you believe how strong this album is? It has only nine songs—the opening song is explosive—and I didn't even mention it in the body of this review. Anyway, this is upbeat—something you can dance to, if you feel so inclined, with a dense drum beat, a tambourine, a flurry of jangle guitars, droney synthesizers... and somehow Molly Rankin's voice can cut through all of that. Oh, and the melody is catchy! You know, this is a great composition, too... the instrumentals get a little busier as it reaches the end, so it actually climaxes.
Archie, Marry Me A+
Well, this is the pop song. If you are ever in a public place and hear something from Alvvays, it's probably going to be this song. It's the one with the chorus that's instantaneously memorable. ...Man, and there's nothing clean about their instrumentation. This is like a heavy custard, or something. I hear distorted guitars playing everywhere, and I can hardly make out a single note they're playing. How is Rankin able to get the lyrics across?
Ones Who Love You A+
The previous two songs were more upbeat and in your face. This one, they take things down a notch. ...This may just be a product of me having listened to this album so many times, but I think using a drum machine instead of—you know—a real drummer was a good move here. That artificial pattering lends to the droning push of this song, and Rankin is left to coo heavenly above all of that. This song has a beautiful chorus already—but then a second chorus (or perhaps a middle-eight section)—seems to pop out of nowhere and becomes even more beautiful. ...You know it takes a very talented songwriter to do that sort of thing. This is why I think Alvvays are going to continue to release great albums after this debut.
Next of Kin A+
I really don't run across to many albums that have this level of great pop songs on them. Not even most albums from the great bands from '60s had this level of songs on it. Once again, the melodies are complex, it never goes flat anywhere, and the chorus really seems to surprise me whenever it comes up. Considering how many times I've heard this, it's kind of weird that I would say the chorus continues to surprise me, but it does. The lyrics are also particularly beautiful here, telling a bittersweet and romantic tale about a lost love.
Party Police A+
This one also gets to me. The chorus is heartbreaking, mostly because of Rankin's vocal delivery... ( “You don't have to leave / you can just stay here with me”) It makes me think about all the close friendships I used to have that have almost completely withered with time. And then there's a really haunting line that comes up in the final third that gives me the shivers... (“We wrote our names on the overpass / And I hope it lasts / Forever”).
The Agency Group A
OK, maybe I don't have to give all these songs an A+, after all. This is still a very good song, but it doesn't quite pop out at me like the rest. Also, as I keep on saying, they don't really vary the instrumentation of anything here; the same instruments that went into making “Party Police” made this one. It's also quite a bit longer than any other song on the album, so maybe it doesn't quite surprise me like so many other songs do, and it drones on a little more. ...And yet, I'm still giving the song a full “A,” so I must still like it! Surely, I'm not sick of their style at all by this point, and they're giving us yet another melody that's completely hummable and fairly complex.
Compared to the other songs here, this one is a three-minute drone, and it doesn't contain any particular surprises in the melody... although it is still a well-written melody. This is another song that uses a drum machine sound, which does work when you're creating a drone. Then the blaring synthesizers are mixed in heavily, and a twinkly guitar provides its jangle-pop texture.
Atop a Cake A+
I like the way this song starts out—with a couple of warm guitars playing a simple, jangly texture. Then Rankin starts to sing for a few seconds before a danceable drumbeat chimes in, which suddenly turns this into the most danceable song of the album. The melody is also one of the most infectious—sort of an acrobatic verses section before it launches into another incredible chorus.
Red Planet A
This strikes me as an oddball way to end the album. Not only a song that drones, this time, but it's kind of creepy as well. I know the song title suggests this, but … this is what you should listen to if you ever find yourself wandering around the lonely landscape of Mars. No prominent guitars on this song until the very end of it, when one or two of them starts to twinkle in. Yes, that is what water would sound like on Mars. Until then, all we get is Rankin singing along to some droning synthesizers and a very sparse, pattering drum machine line. Still, the thing compels me.
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In Undertow A
Oh, what a relief! The first time I heard this song—which was released as a single before the album came out—the thought immediately struck me: This sounds exactly like an Alvvays song. In other words, these guys hadn’t lost everything that made these guys great (in my eyes) from their near-perfect debut. The instrumentation is still all very noisy and hazy—the guitars are very fuzzy, the synthesizers drone away and are kind of ugly, but the drum beat is clean, and Molly Rankin’s sweet but tangy coo cuts through all of it effortlessly. But maybe instead of this sounding so much like it was recorded in a garage, it’s more like it was recorded in the backroom of a Wal-Mart. Progress! I really love these guys’ style, but they hadn’t lost their most important thing: the melody is catchy, and the lyrics are beautifully bittersweet. (“You find a wave and try to hold on for as long as you can / You made a mistake you’d like to erase and I understand / “What’s left for you and me?” / I ask that question rhetorically / Can’t buy into astrology and won’t rely on the moon for anything”) As often as I have told myself I’m not a lyrics guy, I love reading lyrics like these.
Dreams Tonite A+
I got married recently, and I snuck this song in the playlist for the reception. I told my (then) fiancée that this was the song I happened to be obsessed with at the time (which was true). That is even though it was not very appropriate for a wedding, since it’s probably about unrequited love (“If I saw you on the street, would I have you in my dreams tonight?”) But it’s such a sweet song, and the melody melts my heart. It’s quieter, more wistful, and more intoxicating than most everything else here, the drums are mid-tempo, the washy keyboards and guitars waft about dreamily, and lead singer Molly Rankin’s coo is mesmerizing. A very deep, hypnotic bass guitar makes an entrance nearly one minute into the song. Yes, these guys hadn’t forgotten how to build-up a track.
Plimsoll Punks A+
We can’t just be sad, depressed and lonely all the time. Alvvays, after all, are a jangle-pop band, and the hipsters need something to dance to every once in awhile. This is an infectious, upbeat song orchestrated with their characteristically heavy, hazy, jangly guitars and synthesizers, and Molly Rankin still somehow manages to cut through it all with her high-pitched coo. Oh and when I said “We can’t just be sad, depressed and lonely all the time,” that wasn’t to say these lyrics aren’t sad, depressed and lonely. Maybe they’re even a tad angry. (“Who ran from roman candles / Underneath a willow weeping? / Do the tealights on your mantel / Illuminate that summer feeling? / You’re the seashell in my sandal / That’s slicing up my heel”) The very end of this song, after the fade out has already occurred, there’s a little soothing keyboard passage.
Your Type A+
Am I just going to love all of these songs? This a two-minute song, hazy and frenzied, and something that I couldn’t possibly sit still to. I have to tap my foot. It’s too upbeat and infectious. It’s almost as good as “Atop a Cake” from their previous album, except not quite so. I still love this enough to give it the highest rating I possibly can. (”Gambling with your working visa / You’ve got something to prove / Take a photo of the Mona Lisa / Get thrown out of the Louvre / And with vomit on your feet / Clamoring bon appetit”) Hahahahaha…
Not My Baby A
After the frazzled songs of “Plimsoll Punk” and “Your Type,” it must’ve been time for a slower, dreamier song. And this one just seems to waft 10 feet in the atmosphere, wistfully, on a cold and sunny day. Oh yes, this is a sad song. What else would you have expected? I love it of course (“Now that you’re not my baby / I’ll go do whatever I want / No need to turn around to see what’s behind me / I don’t care / And it’s true, I’ve been checking out lately”) What sticks out in my mind most about this song is that haunting instrumental refrain in the middle, with the keyboard that sounds like a cello. So mesmerizing.
Hey, I love the way this song starts out. A bouncy bass guitar and drums keep a drunkenly happy rhythm going, while a wobbly guitar and a disoriented synthesizer provide some fireworks. Then of course the song picks up quickly, and we get another song that you can dance to, if you feel so inclined. This thing is just so delightful, so infectious, to me that I can’t help but fall in love with this song too. I even like how quickly this song evolves—for instance midway through and they strip away the fuzz, and all we hear is Rankin singing along with a twinkly piano.
Lollipop (Ode to Jim) A+
Even though I love all these songs, as though each one of them were part of a most precious Beanie Baby collection, this one gets to be known as my favorite of them all. I remember when I saw Alvvays in concert for the first time (in Dec 2014 at a venue that looked like it was somebody’s basement) I remember them singing a cover by The Primitives. This song sounds like The Primitives, except it’s on steroids. It begins with a heavy, driving, droning rhythm, and it soon becomes infested with a swarm jangly guitars. Rankin sings above all of it with probably the album’s most infectious vocal melody. Jim being referred in this song is Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Of course they would write a tribute to Jim Reid, and the song would sound more like The Primitives than The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Already Gone A-
What is with the “mere” A-? No I don’t have a problem with this song. I love it. It’s one of my Beanie Babies. It’s a very quiet, very mournful, very hazy, very druggy. There are no drums anywhere…just a disconnected guitar strumming along in the background while waves of synthesizers swell in the background, and someone makes a lot of scratchy noises with their electric guitar. Molly Rankin sings through it all with a dreamy, high-pitched coo, as she sings about a lost love. The only thing keeping me from fully embracing it is it doesn’t really have a melody that sticks to me…but you see I get spoiled. Even without a sticky melody, I still find myself getting caught up in its glowing atmosphere.
Saved by a Waif A+
This song used to be called “New Haircut.” They were performing this song live in concert for ages, even when I saw them in Dec 2014. What to say about it? I love this one, too. It’s another one of their upbeat song with an infectious groove you can dance to, and it still has that jangly, melancholic glow that’s characteristic of all their songs. Oh and the melody? Also infectious. Why these guys aren’t bigger than U2 at this point, I’ll never know.
Forget About Life A
We’re at the end of the album already? Awww. This is one of their quieter, slower, creepier songs that doesn’t really have a drum beat. That is until the second half, when a mechanical drum beat comes in amidst some heavy, dreamy synthesizers that sound almost like bagpipes. This mesmerizes me so much I get pinwheels. The vocal melody is also memorable, and the lyrics—while they’re still about things that are drab—are still strangely inviting. (“Did you want to forget about life? / Did you want to forget about life with me tonight? / Underneath this flickering light”)