Alvvays: Blue Rev review
The Canadian band have taken their time in creating a record that doesn’t scream for attention but instead hooks you in with its fuzzy textures and subtleties.
One line in the bridge of Alvvays early single ‘Archie, Marry Me’ perfectly encapsulates the experience of mid-twenties confusion: “Too late to go out, too young to stay in”. Speaking for a generation of college graduates caught in between the last days of their youth and serious adulthood, singer Molly Rankin poses a coming-of-age dilemma on a track about young marriage. It felt succinctly relatable to many (especially to yours truly!) and the addictive single stood them out as a force worth reckoning with.
In 2014, Alvvays established themselves as one of indie rock’s unlikely success stories. Their self-titled debut record was sugary, full of big hooks and, most of all, easy to fall in love with. It wasn’t just the songs folk were paying attention to either. Plenty of emphasis was also placed on their unusual background, which, in turn, added to their allure. I mean, who doesn’t love a good rock ‘n’ roll backstory?
Why was this? Well, firstly, they were originally formed in the densely populated Canadian state of Nova Scotia and not a big city Toronto or Montreal (and yes for the purposes of this review, I did have to Google where Nova Scotia was….). As they hit a level of mainstream acclaim, the media were as fascinated by their origins as the music itself. You see the face of the operation is Molly Rankin, the daughter of a fiddler in the Celtic family collective The Rankin Family. From their jangly sounds to the band’s unfamiliar background, it all felt very twee and cutesy. Thankfully it didn’t go down unnoticed: the indie rock world was quick to get on board.
After a five year break, Alvvays have returned with their third studio album: Blue Rev is their first since 2017’s sophomore record Antisocialites. The latter was a record with mixed reviews. What felt uninspired to some, others found it a perfect continuation of their jangly, indie pop template. And therein lay the dilemma going into album number three - more of the same or something different? With their latest record, they’ve edged closer to the latter. Subtlety and consistency are the new order of the day.
During sessions in Los Angeles in October 2021 with fellow Canadian producer Shawn Everett (The War on Drugs, Kacey Musgraves), Blue Rev was recorded off the bat front to back twice. The cracks were then filled in, intricacies and textures added thereafter. The end result has the band moving in a richer, shoegaze direction. Though the jangly, indie pop remnants do remain, just not as prominent as before.
Ok, so there’s an elephant in the room we need to address. This is the lack of a “banger” on their new album. There’s no ‘Archie, Marry Me’, ‘In Undertow’, or ‘Dream Tonite’…you know, those delightful sing-along tunes amongst indie FM’s most memorable tracks of those respective years. And yes, this will be the most problematic part of their new album for some fair-weather fans. But there’s an easy counter to this criticism. Alvvays have matured their sound beyond the need to chase radio play. Where their first two often lacked substance, Blue Rev is the Canadian band’s most consistent and quality-filled album record to date.
Despite the 14 track length, there’s rarely a dull moment to be had. From the shoegaze heavy openings of ‘Pharmacist’ and ‘Easy on your Own’, the chirpy, jangly indie on ‘After the Earthquake’ and ‘Pressed’ to the psychedelic, trippy vibes on ‘Very Online Guy, the flow on the first half is fantastic. The best is then to come in the second half.
“Moving to the country / Gonna have this baby” declares Rankin over layers of guitars on pre-album single ‘Belinda Says’. It’s a tale of a waitress feeling lost, the nod to Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is a place on earth’ carrying the charm and you depart the track feeling hopeful for the protagonist's future.
The crashing punk of ‘Pomeranian Spinster’ has Alvvays at their rawest and most energetic. Rankin spits her vocals with a similar ferocity to Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell on Blue Weekend’s ‘Play the Greatest Hits’, rivalled in intensity by Alec O’Hanley’s closing guitar solo - the guitarist channelling his inner John Frusciante from RHCP’s heyday.
Meanwhile, there’s a whole load of emotion wrapped round choral album finisher ‘Fourth Figure’, Rankin raw and emotional – an absolute delight to leave us on.
Musically, Blue Rev’s their most consistent record to date. Yes, it may be harder to identify as many memorable lyrics or radio-friendly hits as their first two albums, though this feels on purpose rather than an oversight – Rankin’s vocals are often buried underneath the layers of guitars. You’ll quickly find the 14 tracks flow through with ease and without the same stutters of previous works.
Some sugar has been removed, but we aren’t in diet territory yet. The driving energy, layered guitars and added textures have created a more rounded record. They say too much sugar can make you sick, so toning this down has ensured our appetites are enriched, not overwhelmed.
The tunes are shoegazey, jangly and energetic, never too one-dimensional and always interesting. Alvvays have taken their time in creating a record that doesn’t scream for attention but instead hooks you in with its fuzzy textures and subtleties.