Album Review: Alvvays – Antisocialites

Growing up around the most remote coastal outposts and hideaways along Canada’s most eastern fringe, Alvvays are a band well versed in isolation, and the double-edged sword of solitude. ‘Antisocialites’, the second full-length album from the Toronto indie-pop group is less a handbook to such introversion as it is a means to escape a relationship; to find a way to return to that very isolation.  Swerving, sparkling and achingly sugar-sweet, ‘Antisocialites’ finds singer and front woman Molly Rankin romanticising a “fantasy breakup arc” that very almost came true, revelling in the very same acerbic wit, and lovestruck lyricism that came to define the band’s 2014 debut, and brought a flash of meaningful colour to an otherwise well-trodden genre.

Brought up in remote Nova Scotia as part of a family of famous Celtic folk musicians, in her youth, Rankin certainly wouldn’t of found herself listening to NME’s famed C86 cassette compilation, however a mutual love (shared by Alvvays guitarist, Alec O’Hanley) of Scottish power-pop heroes and C86 descendants Teenage Fanclub, spawned a newfound esteem for the importance of pop amongst guitar music, and pop, this album certainly is, in all the right aspects. infectious, jangling melodies now find themselves juxtaposed by touches of washed-out synth, courtesy of keyboardist Kerri MacLellan, as on the woozy melancholic ‘Dreams Tonite’a live favourite since early last year, it’s luscious dream-pop sound giving a gentle nod toward the likes of Beach House and Chromatics. Presumably a solemn reflection on a fleeting relationship (“Who starts a fire just to let it go out/Who builds a wall just to let it fall down”), it also happens to introduces the album’s title phrase amongst the track’s yearning wordplay. ‘Not My Baby’ features similarly spacious melodies, the rhythmic tap-tap beat of drum machines host to a plethora of airy, mournful synths.

‘Antisocialites’ isn’t all downtempo and despondent. Surf-tinged single ‘Plimsoll Punks’, a response to Television Personalities’ ‘Part-Time Punks’  reels around ’60’s inspired guitar melodies, and energetic percussion. Bold, bouncy, and with killer chorus hooks, it certainly stands as a breakout track, it’s whimsical nature mirrored in its own super saccharine lyrics – “Just strawberry ice cream floating / With a sprinkle indignation / Cherry under knot of shoestring”. ‘Your Type’, an uproarious garage-rock tune about a conspiracy-theory touting, art-museum ejectee (presumably one with an upset stomach) whom Rankin even deems molecularly incompatible (“Let me state delicately/You’re an O and I’m AB”) sees the front woman sing in a convicted high falsetto as she snubs her hopeless partner.

Whilst love crossed opener and lead single ‘In Undertow’ features none other than Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake on backing vocals, ‘Lollipop (Ode To Jim)’, a dedication to Jesus and Mary Chain frontman Jim Reid, who Molly joined onstage at a festival in Australia last year, opens with a flurry of fittingly  ‘Psychocandy’-esque guitar screeches, and curiously details the ins and outs of a fateful LSD trip. The superbly titled ‘Saved By A Waif’, a song that the band have been playing live for a few years under the name ‘New Haircut’ doesn’t hesitate in pulling out all the stops, utilising glitzy disco keys alongside vivacious pop-punks riffs in one of ‘Antisocialites’ most understated tracks.  Closing track ‘Forget About Life’ picks up where the likes of ‘Dreams Tonite’ once left off, rushing the listener, and dealing a sharp left jab to the feels. As the album’s gorgeous closing statement, and the pensive finale to Rankin’s fantastical love story, the song is forward in looking back, recounting difficult decisions, and the need to move on; alone again, rather unnaturally?

Fleetingly short, ‘Antisocialites’ clocks in at just under 33-minutes, but in any case, this isn’t necessarily a problem, playing to the band’s strengths when it comes to penning catchy, joyous indie-pop.  Alvvays have perhaps always concealed a certain darkness within their music; cleverly masquerading beneath subtle black humour, it’s allowed them to re-write the formula of modern guitar-pop, and it’s this very duality that makes ‘Antisocialites’ so refreshing. Just as unique as that revered debut release, and with character and chorus hooks by the bucketload, Alvvays have done exceedingly well to avoid any infamous second album clichés. Never outstaying its welcome, and with more than a few surprises along the way, Molly Rankin and co. might have just made the pop record of the year, MTV eat your heart out. So take a bite, and see for yourself.


Words by Joe Bulger

Featured image courtesy of the band’s Facebook page

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