Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: Alvvays Blue Rev

Polyvinyl
2022
Polyvinyl
2022

It took a bit for Alvvays to win me over. I had been charmed by their debut album’s big singles, the immensely catchy “Archie, Marry Me” and sleeper hit “Party Police,” but I think I was still a little too burnt-out on the vibes-first songs of the early 2010s to really give them proper notice. It wasn’t until the months leading up to the release of their sophomore album Antisocialites in 2017 that they finally clicked. It’s not only that their songwriting grew sharper between those two albums, though that’s certainly part of it. Some magic was revealed to me in those Alvvays songs, and the ones that came before, and I’ve since come to regard the Canadian indie-pop band as low-key geniuses.

They’re the sort of band that has attracted this type of online proselytizing — and also the kind of band that you might dismiss if you don’t immediately hear what everyone else is hearing. Molly Rankin once described their critical consensus as “reluctantly revered,” which feels true. But five years away have cemented their status as an object of simple reverence. It’s rare that a band attracts so many comments on this here site with their first single, much less keeps up that same sort of fervor through an extended album rollout. But there is something about Alvvays that clicks with a whole lot of other people, too.

Blue Rev is the best that Alvvays have ever been. It’s an album that blitzes by. Few songs make it past the three-minute mark — they’re all compressed and cozy and constantly flitting through ideas. The band rarely returns to the same chorus, at least one that’s delivered in the same way. They barrel forward on the sheer power of their gleaming hooks, which are built into the songs as little tugs and pulls that might only reveal themselves on your umpteenth listen. The album feels overwhelming — it’s loud and restless and every individual sound, of which there are many, feels intentional.

The album might be intricate, but its making was mostly instinctual. As the story goes: After some incidents that set back the recording of the album involving a thief, a flood, and a pandemic — all mishaps ripe for an Alvvays song — they linked up with producer Shawn Everett at a studio in Los Angeles late last year. Everett encouraged them to abandon their previous approach to recording, which involved fastidiously recreating their already fastidiously laid out demos, and simply play through the album twice in a row. Alvvays, who have always been an impressive live band, were more than up to the task. The result sounds brisk and powerful. Maybe these songs had just been living with the band for so long that when it finally came time to record them, all their small but pivotal twists and turns were already baked-in.

The songs on Blue Rev are affecting and surprising, slipping into pathos at the most unexpected of moments. Sometimes a lyric or a guitar hits just right. Their songs sound joyous but they can also be painfully sad, often at the same time. Rankin isn’t a particularly personal songwriter — she’s inspired by short stories and inhabits characters and teases out narratives that feel specific but universal. But those lyrics, which Rankin crafts with her partner and bandmate Alec O’Hanley, are top-notch. They’re funny and wry and derive great pleasure from how clever they can be. They roll off Rankin’s tongue, providing an anchor in songs that swell and swerve around her.

Take “Pomeranian Spinster,” a puckish song that topples over under the weight of all these words: “Now you’re living in a condo and you wanna forget there was a time when someone could’ve said you can’t recreate all the things that are read/ Pomeranian spinster, glass slipper never fit/ It took a while but I’m trying to get over it/ Presbyterian ministers travel in packs and never split/ They deviate in the tiniest concepts.” The lyrics have a habit of following up something direct with something abstract, splitting apart as Rankin’s mind wanders in so many different directions. They often express a deep sadness and disaffection, one that’s weighed down by approaching the midpoint of your life and still feeling an emptiness.

One line that always gets me from “Tile By Tile”: “I take the calls from telemarketers in hopes of hearing your drawl/ I let them blather on without a thought/ I surrender my credit card ’cause I’m still combing through missed connections.” On “Belinda Says,” Rankin’s character gives herself over to a fantasy of a simpler life: moving to the country and having a baby, waiting tables in town to get by. “Easy On Your Own?” is all about regret and thinking you could have done better by yourself, if only you’ve made the right choices. It’s rendered in a nightmare-scape, one where we’re stuck “crawling in monochromatic hallways” and dreaming “about it burning down all day.”

Alvvays songs were always wordy, but they are even more rewardingly dense and conceptually rich this time around. It makes sense, though, that their lyrics would match the elevation in sound. There are just so many more layers to Blue Rev than anything else that the band has done. Antisocialites was the idealized version of the songs they wrote on their debut: crisper and punchier, the classic level-up from a band that showed a lot of promise. But Blue Rev is something different — it’s still a natural extension of their sound, but it comes at things from both ends. It’s both catchier and harder to grasp on to. Everything is blown-out, subsumed into a satisfying bed of noise, one that’s a delight to pick apart and really dig into.

I had another brief moment of Alvvays doubt when “Pharmacist,” the lead single from Blue Rev, came out. I remember the anticipation I felt when pressing play, and I also remember feeling underwhelmed by the song, thinking it was too short and there wasn’t really a chorus and where was the band that I had come to appreciate so much? They were still there, it just took me a while to find them. “Pharmacist” is a great song, and it’s also indicative of Blue Rev as a whole. It might take some time to sink in, but once it does all you can hear is an album that’s bursting with sun, blisteringly bright, blindingly brilliant.

Blue Rev is out 10/7 via Polyvinyl.

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