Alvvays – Antisocialites (2017)

 

 

 

alvvays antisocialities

Molly Rankin has one of those voices in pop that I think is absolutely perfect. Ever since I discovered Alvvays’ self-titled debut, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with her singing style. It’s saccharine sweet without dragging or ever hitting a squeaky twinge I’m not too fond of. Her songwriting strikes a similar balance as well – she’s romantic but not overly sentimental, dreamy but not inherently impractical. Basically, the formula she and the rest of Alvvays have crafted give me a little taste of everything I love out of pop music. It could fit into the any of the descriptors I prefer in the genre – dreamy, cozy and mellow. With their self-titled album, Alvvays hit all the right marks and single-handedly pushed me to explore the dreamy atmospheres of groups like Broadcast, Cocteau Twins and Spiritualized.

Their 2017 release, Antisocialites proves that Alvvays can craft more than just one hit. In fact, they managed managed to blow their debut out of the water. A similar cozy atmosphere is still apparent but it seems as though every other aspect is noticeably improved. Rankin’s songwriting is a notch above. The guitar work is jangly yet ever so slightly more experimental. The dreaminess is increased tenfold. Songs like “Dreams Tonite” epitomize everything that makes this group so enjoyable. Incredibly catchy melodies, booming bass and a gorgeous vocal display by Rankin. This combination is the defining style of the album – yet the album never feels drab or repetitive.

What ultimately makes Antisocialites a better listen however, is the production. While Alvvays was steeped in 80s sentimentality and familiar techniques – Antisocialites is definitely modern. Alvvays had a tendency to take any potential harshness out of the band’s instrumentals. Guitar riffs were toned back and almost lo-fi. Bass lines never bounced too hard or too quickly. The atmosphere was comfortable but ultimately and unfortunately – flat.

Nothing about Antisocialites sound screams “innovative” but it certainly takes a step away from the trendy throwback sound. Instead of the lo-fi, almost muddled sound Antisocialites is booming and lush. Guitar riffs may have moments that are relatively aggressive. But they ultimately add more to the ethereal soundscape than the lo-fi predecessors. It feels as though Antisocialites manages to keep similar themes and cozy twee elements without relying too much on an 80s sound. While the toned back production on Alvvays made it an easy listen, it ultimately made it a boring one as well.

As a result, tracks maintain a comfortable, familiar sound without already feeling dated. Far too many groups in the indie movement seem to be relying on throwback production and as a result, the albums end up feeling stale and unimpressive. Alvvays somehow manages to capture the emotions associated with the 80s revival without succumbing too many of its tropes.

The album thrives not only because of masterful production – but because of gorgeous melodies. “In Undertow” kicks the album off with a wall of sound, backed by swaying synth work and rock drumming. There’s nothing complex about the track. The guitar bursts into a solo about halfway through, spraying waves of reverb alongside whammy bar vibratos. It only lasts about 20 seconds but the simple embellishment ties the whole track together. It feels like a little Kevin Shields tribute, a nod to earlier influences. At the same time, it certainly isn’t derivative.

“Dreams Tonite” thrives on these popular throwback themes. It sounds like a doo-wop cut, balanced out with shimmering guitar work and a 50s progression. As the title implies, it’s dreamy, romantic and suave. It feels like a soundtrack to a teenage hearthrob in the best way possible. Throw it into a John Hughes movie or Lost in Translation and it’d be the perfect fit. The track gradually builds into a glorious synth breakdown at which point the track is pure bliss. Rankin ties the track together with a bit of a twist. Overlapping harmonies add even more of a dreamy atmosphere to the track, ensuring the track leaves an impact before it fades away. In other words, there’s just enough variety to keep the track engaging for about 3 minutes.

“Your Type” sees the band exhibit more of their punk influence. Pounding drums give it more of an upbeat, semi-anxious feel and guitar drones on in simple power chords. No breakdown permeates the two minute cut. Instead, it’s a straight-forward romp through surf punk – only with a glammier feel. The only semi-complicated aspect of the song is the brief key change to ramp up the intensity. Though simplistic, this once again proves Alvvay’s ability to craft something catchy and straight to the point. It’s this attitude that made the band so successful in the past and they’ve wisely managed to keep some of their trademark simplicity.

“Hey” serves as a rare showcase of Alvvay’s slightly experimental side. The track kicks off with a warbling guitar tone which sputters, twists and turns until eventually warping into a more traditional riff. Even then, the band throws in some peculiar touches. A hint of noisy feedback churns in the background. An echo effect encircles the track’s opening. Even when the track begins to hit its stride the riffs feel jagged and uneven, in an almost post-punk style. They’re little moments which last less than a minute but they’re the perfect length to justify weirdness in a pop track. At the end of the day, they’re pretty traditional rock aspects but its these minuscule details which separate this release from the self-titled.

As a whole Antisocialites is a pretty tremendous pop project. Standing at just 30 minutes, it manages to sound fresh, accessible and invigorating. A dreamy atmosphere and shimmering production push the project to a new level, avoiding many of the problems plaguing too many indie releases. Rakin’s voice, paired with straight-forward songwriting and lush instrumentation ensure it’s one of the best pop albums of the year.

Author: Charlie

Charlie Wooley is an aspiring journalist and founder of The Tenth Man Blog. An avid sports fan and music nerd, he’s written for publications such as Pop Gates, Every Deja Vu and Tremr. A local San Diegan, you can catch him eating fish tacos or cruising through Balboa.

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