It’s been five years since the indie rock world has been graced by an Alvvays record. The Canadian rock band has had its fair share of difficulties in the interim. They lost a rhythm section, singer Molly Rankin had a recorder full of demos stolen, and, of course, the pandemic happened. What could have been a laundry list of band-ending setbacks instead saw the remaining members rebuilding, piecing together songs and waiting for the storm to pass.
With Blue Rev, Alvvays has ended this intermission in masterful fashion. They explore new avenues while still reliably conjuring up the shimmering melodies and brilliant lyrics they are known for. It’s a pure rock record, with plenty of angst, but there’s a dreamy, distant quality to the effort as well. Rankin’s echoey vocals sit within the constant hum of reverb-drenched instrumentals, which results in a sound that feels almost live, as if you were at the back of some sold-out venue. Presumably, this is also due to their recording process. The album was performed live in the studio, where the band played the entire thing twice back to back before producer Shawn Everett messed with the textures to produce something that feels complete.
“Pharmacist”, the record’s first pre-released single, kicks things off with a minimum of artistic indulgence. It’s a rushed 2 minutes of what might be described as uptempo shoegaze, with roaring guitar and a driving rhythm section swallowing Rankin’s cryptically nostalgic lyrics. This sound continues on “Easy On Your Own?”, a longer ode to the virtues of going for broke (College education’s a dull knife/ If you don’t believe in the lettered life/Then maybe this is our only try).
The expectation of more jet-engine guitar is denied with “After The Earthquake”, where the group pivots to a jangling sound reminiscent of The Smiths. Other cuts, including the very funny “Very Online Guy”, lean into a more synthy sound. In a radio interview, Rankin described Blue Rev as “pretty eclectic. There’s slacker strummer, swing ballads, some kooky more synth-based songs, and some more abrasive moments as well”. Alvvays pulls this mixed approach off with style; the changes are unexpected, but never unwelcome.
Nostalgia for Rankin’s childhood home of Cape Breton runs through the record. She comes from a musical family, and as a kid spent many evenings at Celtic festivals, where her dad was a star fiddle player. Fittingly, the cover of the album shows her parents pulling her off a boat during a fierce storm. In another tribute to home, the title Blue Rev is a syrupy wine cooler Rankin would drink with friends at the drained ice rink. The name of the beverage shows up on “Belinda Says”, a wistfully ambivalent track about memories and moving forward (Paradise/ and I find myself paralyzed/knowing all too well terrified/ but I’ll find my way).
My introduction to Alvvays came when I heard their 2014 minor hit “Archie, Marry Me”. It was clever but earnest, like most great love songs, and the dreamy garage rock struck a perfect chord in my indie collegiate heart. “Many Mirrors”, my favorite cut off Blue Rev, strikes the same chord. It’s sweet, warmhearted slacker rock, a genuine ode to the person, or people, with whom we choose to spend our years (now that we’ve passed many mirrors/ I can’t believe we’re still the same). Here’s to many more years with Alvvays.
Pre-order Blue Rev by Alvvays HERE
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