The young Canadian quartet Alvvays has a tremendous talent for making songs that sound classic while also crackling with modern spirit.
They did it over and over and over again on their self-titled 2014 debut album, a coolly assured collage of enduring melodies, jangling guitars and pastel vibes. Its centerpiece: a perfect work of art called “Archie, Marry Me.” With its singsong verses and soaring chorus, it’s as pure an indie-pop song as you will ever hear.
And it was not an anomaly; Alvvays was packed wall-to-wall with tunes as good as “Archie,” or at least close. From more or less out of nowhere—Cape Breton and Prince Edward islands on Canada’s far eastern end, to be precise—the band nonchalantly staked its claim to one of the best musical debuts in recent years.
With a great debut, of course, comes expectations for a worthy follow-up, and it seems Alvvays took the time to get it right. On its sophomore effort Antisocialites (Polyvinyl Records, 9/8), the band again balances downcast pop and cuddly punk rock with impressive proficiency.
While Alvvays’ primary aesthetic remains, singer and songwriter Molly Rankin’s perspective—at least on the topic of love—has shifted a bit. Where Alvvays was largely about the promise and mystery of young romance, Antisocialites finds Rankin on the dark side of a relationship.
“What’s left for you and me? I ask that question rhetorically,” she sings in the opening track, “In Undertow,” before answering her own question in the chorus: “There’s no turning back after what’s been said.”
Later, in the gorgeous “Dreams Tonite,” Rankin asks, “Who starts a fire just to let it go out?” Even a simple survey of song titles reveals the theme: “Not My Baby,” “Already Gone,” and “Your Type” (as in “I will never be…”). Every step of the way, Rankin keeps her cool, cooing icily against chiming guitars, burbling bass lines, and smeared synths. The effect is at once intimate and distant.
So it’s no coincidence, perhaps, that the album’s most thrilling moments are in the songs for which Rankin seems to let loose. To wit: her jump up an octave at the end of the sparkling “Plimsoll Punks,” her clipped delivery in “Hey,” and the quick robo-repeated vocal part in the chorus of “Lollipop” (“pop pop pop pop pop pop”), which namedrops The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid. It’s a studio trick, but it’s also one of the coolest musical micro-moments of 2017.
Don’t mistake “thrilling” for “best,” however. “In Undertow” is an incredible song that drapes an undulating melody over a tangle of prickly guitars and synths. “Not My Baby” is a four-minute monument to the emotional power of a well-plucked electric guitar and plenty of echo. “Saved By a Waif” sounds shipped in straight from the glorious heyday of Sarah Records, chickfactor fanzine and C86 pop. And the closing track’s main mantra—“Did you want to forget about life with me tonight?”—sounds particularly appealing in an era that delivers fresh new horrors to our pants-pockets each and every day.
Therein lies the beauty of Alvvays. Indie-pop/rock has been understandably maligned in recent years for both its listlessness and its try-hardness (depending on the band). But Alvvays stuffs its songs full of feelings without ever sounding desperate or lost. This band creates its own little sound-world, one that’s familiar, yes, but also expertly appointed. It makes music to get lost in. I hope I never find my way out.