Instagram Soundcloud Spotify

Buzz-Pop For A New Generation – Alvvays’ Brimming Debut

Polyvinyl Records

Written by:

The trilling plethora of young female-fronted, melodic rock pop bands with a fizz-bright profile presents a two-edged challenge to a new prospect just now entering the sparkling fray with chimes and harmonies blazing. For one there’s no shortage of current practitioners held in fairly high and well-deserved acclaim, Best Coast, Real Estate, Camera Obscura, and the Dum Dum Girls not the least of them. Their grip on the devoted fanbase for this craftiest of songcraft-based genres that has as its impetus the C86-inspired early 90’s generation now looking 20+ years down the wrong end of the telescope would appear difficult to loosen. Secondly, it’s a crowded field beyond just those listed above. You can barely throw a Bandwagonesque songbook out your front door without hitting another budding Vaselines acolyte, leading to at least the perception that the bar is being set further and further down the scale towards ‘mundane’ as more and more albums of similar ilk are released. Under these circumstances it’s understandable that adherent and critic alike would be skeptical of still another entrant in the Shimmery PopĀ© sweepstakes, especially one that comes with the albatross-like hyphenate ‘hotly-tipped’ parked in front of their name. With Canadian quintet Alvvays, however, even with those “Pitchfork this” and “SXSW-that” preceding them, such skepticism is seriously misplaced, wholly and immediately swept aside by the product at hand.

Released July 22nd on Polyvinyl, Alvvays’ self-titled debut has, if I may be both vague and succinct in a single stroke, it, that ephemeral but unmistakable quality that seems, with effortless ease, to so represent their chosen genre as to become a de facto textbook go-to, while simultaneously transcending the simple borders of expectation to further become, simply, an excellent album period, shining and solid from every angle.

Though proof jumps out and kisses your senses just about everywhere on Alvvays, let’s skip to fourth track “Next of Kin.” From Alec O’Hanley’s arc of a stringing guitar line that opens it to the dark power-pop rush of full band sturm that descends a bar later, complete with a punk-pop bass bit (Brian Murphy) that manages to be both springy and slightly withdrawn, Molly Rankin’s voice soon blowing through with a clarified Tonya-Donelly-like authority, eschewing overt vulnerability in favor of graceful strength, all of it locked in a structure that’s buoyant yet steeped in a charging regret, as you might expect from a song about a drowned lover (“If I knew he couldn’t swim/we would never have gone in“), it’s one plum of a track. On the one hand the thing’s got this innate swing to it that’s easy and masterful in its head-nodding suasion, on the other it may as well be an excerpt from one of Alice Munro’s heavier short stories and that’s this band’s genius. A pop rock song brimming with resilient sadness is not a description you’ll often see written. All the best art, though, in one way or another, sucker-punches you from your blindside while sweet-talking to your face and Alvvays, above all else and there’s plenty else, has got that blessed dichotomy goin’ on in spades.

Whether it’s the heavy-duty punch of “Adult Diversions” giving way to a joyous rollick that itself is leavened by Rankin’s sobered yearn of a vocal, “Ones Who Love You”‘s somber tone and hypnotic melody carried by a ring of chiming hope (beautiful song), the way the sunset swoon of “Party Police” can’t mask the romantic optimism at its heart – the track in the end a minor-chorded triumph – or how “Atop A Cake” takes its tentative twin guitar intro and flips it into a pop-along romp full of a perky melancholy and flush with timeless melodies that might well stick in your memory for, well, yeah, forever, the emotional bait ‘n’ switch on Alvvays is rampant, which is to say addictive. Certainly this is down primarily to the basic creative nous in the band’s DNA but just as key, soundwise, is having the ramshackle charm of Calgary songwriting machine Chad VanGaalen in the producer’s chair backed up by Holy Fuck’s Graham Walsh and no less than John Agnello sharing duties at the mixing desk. Whatever the source, the results are marvelous.

First single “Archie, Marry Me,” with its cheeky “Hey Paula“-like chorus refrain and buried roar of guitars, is classic late summer fare, the drumming (Phil MacIsaac) fairly explosive; the four-and-a-half minute “The Agency Group” glows with a lovely, hanging melancholia, while pace-appropriate closer “Red Planet,” mildly experimental, downtempo, is drenched in moody keyboards textures (Kerri Maclellan) that could’ve been programmed by Dave Formula, Molly’s voice bird-clear and confessional, the track taking us out with heartful longing and yes that’s no surprise and yes it’s a pitch-perfect ending.

Now, Belle & Sebastian get mentioned in the same critical breath as this band and though one understands that lineage and sees the relevance one should nonetheless be clear: there’s nothing fey or studenty about Alvvays and there’s certainly far too much sonic oomph in them to ever be considered precious. If anything, the motifs laid down by B&S and carried forward by Camera Obscura are finding their fullest expression here, a progression respectfully expanded with all the verve and nuance that implies. I’ll add that, in my view, they’ve been misnomered as ‘fuzz-pop’ when, in terms of both sound and euphoric effect, Alvvays should much more accurately be labeled buzz-pop.