Alvvays Are Unpredictable, Harsh and Better Than Ever on 'Blue Rev'

BY Alex HudsonPublished Oct 7, 2022

Alvvays named their third album after a caffeinated vodka cooler, but Blue Rev feels less like a hyperactive buzz and more like the crushing hangover the morning after: chaotic, anxiously over-stimulated, and tinged with regretful melancholy.

The Toronto group's first two albums perfected their jangling brand of classic indie pop, with 2014's self-titled debut channeling the lo-fi muck of late-aughts blog-core and 2017's Antisocialites polishing both their soundscapes and their catchy songcraft. Alvvays were potentially poised to make a big leap into the mainstream — perhaps with sleek synthpop like so many before them, or perhaps an Antonoff-esque turn into tasteful singer-songwriting.

Blue Rev instead takes a turn into harsher soundscapes and more complex, obtuse songwriting. There's nothing here as instantly gratifying as past mega-choruses like "Marry Me, Archie" or "Dreams Tonite"; instead, Blue Rev's opening track and lead single, "Pharmacist," is a two-minute explosion of sinewed noise pop and a guitar solo that's more feedback than melody. It's not a red herring, signalling a challenging album in which singer Molly Rankin's golden melodies are soaked in soupy shoegaze dissonance.

The murk isn't lo-fi, mind you; Blue Rev was produced by Grammy-winning big shot Shawn Everett (Kacey Mugraves, the War on Drugs), who had the band play the album twice through, live off the studio floor, and then spent the rest of the recording process meticulously fucking up the recordings. The controlled chaos of this approach can be heard in the minutiae — the way the Rankin's voice warps and echoes on the synth-blurred "Very Online Guy," or the whooshing phaser that reinforces the drum fills leading into the final chorus of "Many Mirrors."

The songwriting is similarly detail-oriented and difficult to parse: the unpredictable dips and swoops of Rankin's vocal melody on "Easy on Your Own?" sound more like the Dirty Projectors than the K Records reference points of past Alvvays albums, and sky-scraping power ballad "Belinda Says" has an ascendant key change — a trick borrowed straight from namesake Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," a song that's quoted in the lyrics.

With so much sonic and compositional complexity, it would be easy to ignore than these 14 tracks are, at their core, classic Alvvays songs: "Many Mirrors" has jangling arpeggios and a light-refracting chorus that's up there with any hook from Antisocialites, while "Easy on Your Own?" is an absolutely devastating account of the aimlessness of early adulthood, with Ranking plaintively asking, "How do I gauge / Whether this is stasis or change." Every song is packed with images as vivid as photographs, which come into focus with repeat listens: "Drive-through crying in a milkshake" on the boppy "After the Earthquake," or "A closet full of lace acquired recently" on "Velveteen." The very Smiths-y jangle of "Pressed" swells into a gorgeous outro of "I won't apologize for something I'm not sorry for," with Rankin rhyming "apologize" with some dizzyingly perfect non-sequiturs: "This cocktail is overpriced" and "Holy water, lemon rind."

It all amounts to a densely packed album, with most tracks clocking in at less than three minutes and all of them stuffed to the brim with synth interludes, feedback freakouts and snippets of drum machines. It's Alvvays least penetrable, most challenging album yet — but one that still preserves the band's best qualities, sounding chaotic and painstaking at the same time.
(Celsius Girls )

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