I will not pretend my awkward adolescent obsession did not consist predominantly of The Smiths: I can confirm the rumours that there were in fact twenty-four Morrisseys taped to my wall circa 2012. Things change; I’ve transitioned more gracefully into subtler areas of indie angst and you can now conduct a conversation with me without said angst being rubbed in your face (thank God).
But then along came the Canadians Alvvays with their self-titled debut and it was like a woozy step back in time to the whiny shoegazing of my past. Ten days ago, out popped their second anachronism, Antisocialites and I’m delighted to say they have retained their foothold in a (weirdly) unexploited market of 80s-esque romantic guitar pop, whilst still committing to the development of their own sound. And I’m hooked.
Big names have buzzed around Alvvays since the start and their eponymous album is a rather difficult act to follow: mixed by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, the list is star-studded), it smashed into number one on the college charts in the states.
Skyrocketing from the (literal) back of beyond (allegedly twenty hours from urban life), you wouldn’t blame Alvvays for experiencing a little stage fright trying to recreate that kind of response on their sophomore album, but clearly a couple of interim years touring actual civilisation bolsters the confidence that floods through on Antisocialites.
Opening track “In Undertow” maintains some of the kaleidoscopic aura of previous Alvvays experiences. Lyrically this is my favourite moment on the album, and Rankin’s voice is absolutely designed for the gauzy disinterested role of detached ex-girlfriend suggesting her pining lover “meditate, play solitaire, take up self defense” to get over it.
For those reluctant to let go of the hazy dream-pop of the past, “Dreams Tonite” and “Already Gone” provide a mellow headrush, the latter backed by a series of sound effects that felt a bit like pins-and-needles in my brain. This archetypal nihilistic mooning about a collapsed love – “who builds a wall just to let it fall down” – is ideal if you want a moment to despair in humanity.
But frankly, if we peel back some of the protective coat of reverb, Alvvays now exude a self assurance without losing sight of the sound that first got them so much notice:
“Not My Baby” has a groove that echoes Peter Bjorn and John (who they toured supporting in their infant days, interestingly) and a chorus that operates over a Morrissey-esque drone that delightfully compliments bouncy guitars.
“Plimsoll Punks” opens a bit like The Cure’s “A Forest” on amphetamines. The brightest two minutes on the album “Your Type” is underpinned by the refrain “I die on the inside every time”: this album is the pinnacle of indie guitar pop.
These tracks – plus maybe “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” – illustrate the Alvvays’ secret that lets them capture what few have recreated successfully since groups like the Smiths or the Housemartins, and gets them described as a “guilty pleasure” that harks back to NME’s C86 cassettes. It’s all in their understanding that busy layers of jangly guitars operate best with charmingly simple melodies, even bordering on monotonic.
Bands like Real Estate (think Stained Glass) or Tennis come close, and certainly Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch has the low-effort indie drone perfected, but Alvvays seem to unwittingly echo bygone decades like no one else.
But the best thing about Alvvays is the fact that they did all of this by accident: many a band have sold their souls in a vain effort to crack the secret formula of the icons, and these Canadian nobodies just wandered in and absolutely nailed it. Alvvays Antisocialites is out now via Polyvinyl Record Co, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Immy Hequet