“I don’t wanna be cruel but you’re really grinding. I’m not a fool but I have a rage and it’s blinding“, sings the infuriated Ellie Roswell of Wolf Alice on the anagram-titled lead single “Yuk Foo“.
With it’s no-holding-back hardcore grunge attitude, vocal anger and abundance of expletives, it’s a track that encapsulates the approach of Roswell and her band Wolf Alice to her second album Visions of A Life. If they feel a certain emotion, they are going to express it 100% without the fear of judgemental backlash.
Other acts that have faced immediate success in their debuts have either try to follow it up with a record that’s more refined and polished to fulfill their record label’s urgent demands or have just managed to piece something together haphazardly in an identity-confused and writer’s block state. Not Wolf Alice. Despite it being only circa two years since their first release, they have unleashed a sophomore that’s even more raw and uncensored and just as confident.
At a time where guitar music is so waning that Radio X resort to playing rap music to fill in the playlist, it’s a welcome release in that genre. Whilst its shape-shifting entertaining style of grunge indie rock-meets-folk is similar to the debut My Love Is Cool, it’s also a smooth transition indeed.
Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who worked on both of the childhood flashbackers M83‘s last two albums as well as the pop punkers Paramore‘s previous releases), the timing of its birth and producer choice could be a factor in its sound.
Wolf Alice frontwoman Ellie Roswell witnessed a lot of protests at her time in L.A including the Woman’s March and anti-Muslim Ban demonstration and the North Londoner herself has become a keen activist of late, even recording a YouTube video attempting to persuade young people to vote Labour in the latest UK elections.
Yep, another musician apparently on the Jeremy Corbyn supporting tour bus. This activism experience is perhaps why her lyrics so open and honest. The songs are meant to be like capital letters on a protest board. Whether it’s about anger or love, the goal is to relate to their crowd of followers.
Having an arsenal of versatile vocal colours (from shouting, to harmonising, to calm and measured to whispering) not only compliments Roswell’s honest emotions and the eclectic pace on display but it also shows a multiple dimension to the songwriter that will makes fans feel like they know all her vulnerable sides inside and out.
A human soul is showcased. “Yeah I have feelings, cause I’m human, a totally self destructive“, she sings on the aforementioned “Yuk Foo” (comparable to Blur’s “Song 2” for its short burst of messy emotion). She also yells with passion in moments on “Sadboy” and launches her voice in the skies in a manner similar to Karen O of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs on “Formidable Cool“.
Ellie Roswell whispers like Charlotte Gainsbourg on “Planet Hunter” (reminiscent of the French singer’s “AF607105” for it’s plane journey subject), “Don’t Delete These Kisses“, and “St Purple & Green” as a large contrast to her vehement moments and sounding like she’s reading a personal diary.
Furthermore on the dreamy folk of penultimate track “After The Zero Hour” – which jumps from a nineties sound to a seventies era – she adopts of the role of a Karen Carpenter or more recently Weyes Blood or Julia Holter.
Then there’s times when the mood alternates within one track and not so more then on the head-bashing, mosh-pit inducing title track finale “Visions Of A Life”. Not only does the drums’ signature switch frequently but Ellie’s personality transforms so much that it’s hard to believe it’s the same singer throughout.
As the tracks on the album are generally quite short (sometimes frustratingly), lasting less than 3 minutes and the album lacks a coherent concept with subjects ranging Ellie Roswell’s grandmother (“St Purple & Green”), to the death of a friend (“Heavenward“), to a fictional character from a high school flick Heathers in “Beautifully Unconventional” (another reference to a teenage film after the passion for The Virgin Suicides from the debut), it sounds like a bunch of short extracts from a journal rather than the first release’s concentrated focus on teenagehood and growing up in Holloway.
Yet this isn’t a bad thing when it contains poignant lines such as “I got 1 thousand million friends and I feel so alone” that are so so powerful and relevant they appear to speak to the lost social-media hogging generation that seek guidance. Wolf Alice appear to be their spokespeople and their guts and bravery musically and lyrically should also put them at the forefront of a new wave of indie rock music.
Out now on RCA Records, purchase Wolf Alice Visions Of A Life on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs