ALBUM REVIEW: 'Antisocialites' - Alvvays
After listening to this Toronto dreampop band's second album; there's no turning back.
GENRE: Shoegazing, Dream pop YEAR: 2017 LABEL: Polyvinyl Record Co.
Listen to the album on Spotify!
By 'turning back', I'm referring to how well Antisocialites stacks up in comparison to Alvvays's debut - and that's saying a lot for this Canadian band that I fell in love with at first listen.
The eponymous album that came out in 2014 breathed silent hope into me when it comes to the newly resurrected world of lo-fi dream pop. There's always been this long, stretched out search for that perfect lo-fi band that satisfies my urge to find that balance between 'catchy' and 'distorted'.
I would go through hours of My Bloody Valentine's discography, and end up falling in love with their lesser known single, Sunny Sundae Smile. I spiraled into M83 but ended up crushing over Graveyard Girl, a single by them of which their later songs never replicated.
I decided I liked my 'nu-gazing' songs 'adorable'. Or twee (that word someone made up possibly to describe bands like Belle & Sebastian).
Thus, if you combine Molly Rankin's lyricism and voice with Alec O'Hanley's and Kerri MacLallan's musical camaraderie of fuzzy guitars and spacey synthesizers: you get a good example of my dream band - this effervescent lovechild of Camera Obscura and Dinosaur Jr
Archie, Marry Me is an amazing testimony to that. Heartfelt, mozarella-cheesy lyrics of matrimonial declarations rings through a track with the musical essence of a garage band whose favourite hobby is stargazing (& going to the beach. On LSD) . In fact, almost of all of their songs are like that so, naturally, I fell in love almost instantly.
The iconic Alvvays song
Antisocialites takes whatever I love about their debut album and doubled it. For one, it works as a more coherent musical composition, with tracks that transition effortlessly from one point to another. In comparative, the Alvvays album is a playlist of good tracks that seem to have a lot moments that felt jarring and uncertain. I adore every song in the debut, but the fact that The One Who Loves You comes immediately after Archie, Marry Me bothers me. Musically, it felt forced, and for general aesthetic reasons, I was disappointed that they weren't consistently vibrant because I've built up an expectation of them as 'Belle & Sebastian with distortions' after the first two tracks. As a separate song, The One Who Loves You (this also applies to their other songs like Red Planet & Party Police) are great tracks - but it threw me off guard to say the least).
What the second album does is make that transition between fast-paced punk-riff songs and slow, melancholy psychedelia effective. Alvvays does a better job at flowing through the range of sound that they have, both with really soft & ethereal interludes (like that synth piece in the middle of Plimsoll Punks). There's also great diversity placed in each ONE of the songs while staying true to the veneer of a catchy dream pop-rock song. Most of the songs on the album are great dream pop tracks with tinges of grunge and pop punk while the slower psychedelic songs complement them so wonderfully when they play (e.g. slower tracks like Already Gone and Dream Tonite).
Working with constraints
Alec, in an interview with Indie88 Toronto (around the 3:45 minute mark), said that they are a stickler for the classic pop format. The classic format is basically the common verse-chorus-verse structure of normal pop songs; constructed to be memorable and catchy. "It's a form that people relate to, and people respond to. We love that. Give yourself some constraints, and see where you can get that song to the magic point within that constraint".
In the debut album, they already used this approach so well. Never refraining from hooks just because they're trying to be "different", but yet not getting complacent with the pop format just because it's the easiest way to make earworms. This juggling act they do makes Alvvays amazing, and make songs like Atop a Cake memorable as hell. Antisocialites perfects this MO, and what makes it really exciting is that they push more magic into that pop format. You can't accuse them of being 'worshipper of templates' because there's so much creative direction and audacity in a song. Remember how Plimsoll Punks transformed from your classic indie dreampunk into calming synthesizer deliciousness? Fuck yes. And then there's Kerri MacLallan solo-ing at the beginning of Saved By A Waif which turned into one of my favourite punk pop songs at the moment? Oh my God.
Unlike their debut, there are SO VERY FEW moments where you feel that a song is underproduced, except for songs like Already Gone which is good in its simplicity but lacks the many layers found in their other songs. Some of the more brilliant aspects of the album was in the littlest things. An example of this is the song Lollipop (Ode to Jim Reid). It's already super-endearing, but then it becomes even MORE awesome during the part where Molly sings the word 'lollipop' and the syllable 'pop' is repeated quickly. It's recorded to sound like when I make an O shape with my mouth and I clap my palm over it repeatedly. Holy crap, yes.
Top rankin' lyrics
The other great thing about this album is the THEME. Already the coherence is apparent in its auditory seamlessness when you go through it track-by-track, but then there's also the lyrical substance behind the songs. They haven't gone all Patti Smith and aimed for high-end urban prose poetry, but yet there's so much profundity in their lyrics that I need to write an ode for it (the same way they wrote an ode for Jim Reid). Antisocialites being the name, every single song falls in line with the general notion of a person being 'outside' of something. Whether it's the isolation felt in Not My Baby (You can tell your friends that I don't make sense, 'cause I don't care), the introspection of your friend's authenticity in In Undertow, (When you get old and faded out, would you want your friends?) or the reluctance to meet someone you've been loving from a far because it hasn't been working out in Dreams Tonite (Don't sit by the phone for me, Wait at home for me, all alone for me, Your face was supposed to be hanging over me like a rosary, So morose for me; seeing ghosts of me; writing oaths to me). They're remarkable songwriting.
Molly Rankin during her She EP days was NOT a platinum blonde. Not that that matters, but it's cool to see her musical style evolve here!
Before forming Alvvays, Molly Rankin released an EP called She and in there are twangier, less lo-fi songs (I hesitate to say 'very rural Canadian-sounding' but oops I just said it) where she sings about heartbreak and everything of that ilk. I love that EP because I got to see Molly's lyrical prowess without the distraction of fuzzy guitar work and stellar synths, and it had that cynical but cutesy quality that I wished was translated more into her songwriting for Alvvays back in 2014. (check out the song Who Broke Your Heart to understand what I mean. Zooey Deschanel could have written it). Old Molly's way with prose sorta came back in Antisocialites in the best form. These are the lyrics to Your Type:
Hop that fence if you wanna Then dissolve into the night Ditch your friends on a whim Later resurface in a fight Kill the buzz with your decrees and conspiracy theories
[Chorus] I die on the inside every time You will never be alright I will never be your type
My heart melts, and in Saved By A Waif, my heart - still in liquid-pool-of-ice-cream form - now has sprinkles on it:
Say something, waste something Change your life Take something, break something Make your flight Say something, anything Mommy wants you to be a doctor So she can tell her friends you’re like your father And if it’s all for the sake of conversation Then maybe you should try a new vocation
No One Gets Hurt!
And it's not just the words really. It's also the way Molly sings the words that adds an almost vibrant personality to certain lines, like how in the same song she sings "No one gets hurt" and "Mommy wants you to be a doctor, so she can tell her friends you're like your father". There's also that beautiful frustration she feels towards some pretentious group of people in Plimsoll Punks (who are also, apparently taller than her) which exudes from the song (Your posture's blocking out every possible light). Honestly, if I could just list down my favourite lyrics from this album I could, write another post. Even the first track in the album and their first single from Antisocialite, In Undertow, has SO MANY GREAT GEMS making the start of the album really strong. (e.g. Don't read into psychology and won't rely on your mood for anything ).
This music video for their latest single, Dreams Tonite, shows the band members superimposed into a footage from the '70s. Pretty cool how they're not really made prominent in the video, staying true to the 'outsider' nature of Antisocialites
If we're gonna gush on about Molly Rankin's voice, the other factor that definitely adds to the more nuanced nature of this album is the fact that Molly is slightly more daring with her voice, singing in a higher pitch on Your Type, and going almost naked (music-wise) on Forget About Life - huge contrast from their debut, where I feel she only really changes her pitch in Party Police .
Antisocialites still has its flaws however. I never really got hooked onto Already Gone and I think Red Planet from their self-titled debut was a way better ending to an album than how Forget About Life wraps it up. These flaws are negligible though, considering that it still wraps up the album perfectly in its theme of leaving reality behind and making the best out of your dreams - regardless of whether they're in the form of romantic reverie, or hopeless career ambitions. For an album which seems to pay homage to us anxious outsiders out there who live in worlds outside the knowledge of others; Antisocialites is truly out of this world.
TL;DR - Better than their debut album! Alvvays stick to their catchy sound while being more adventurous too. Perfect anthem for those anxious nights of loneliness or the more blissful ones!
P/S: I remember seeing the track listing for the first time and got really sad that a song called 'New Haircut' was not on it. I first heard that song in a live video of Alvvays at Glastonbury Festival 2015 and was excited as fuck. I shared this sentiment with guys like this on the comment section:
Imagine how happy I was when I heard the opening parts of 'Saved By A Waif'...
Formerly known as 'New Haircut' :')