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Alvvays - Antisocialites (Album Review)

Friday, 15 September 2017 Written by Huw Baines

When you sound like Alvvays do, it can be hard to find room to move. On their self-titled debut, the Toronto band navigated a rich world of gauzy reverb and longing indie-pop melodies so successfully that it immediately became difficult to imagine them doing anything else.

A cursory spin of their second LP, the pithily-titled ‘Antisocialites’, suggests that they have duly returned to the same atmospheric ground for another crack at things. But that reading doesn’t hold for long. Here Alvvays are in fact more ambitious, more melodically adventurous and better at pacing things. It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch.

The great strength of ‘Alvvays’ was the consistent quality of its writing, even if everything orbited the record’s majestic, could’ve-been-Teenage-Fanclub single, Archie, Marry Me.

That’s still very much the case here, though this time vocalist Molly Rankin presides over a set of songs that are more refined in some senses, but defiantly boisterous in others.

In Undertow is a more-of-the-same starter, but its immediate follow up Dreams Tonite (its hook: “If I saw you on the street would I have you in my dreams tonight?”) is a wistful romance in miniature that hints at this record’s broader palette.

A rambunctious guitar break lifted from the earliest pages of rock ‘n’ roll punches through the latter stages of the breezy Plimsoll Punks, while Rankin proves to be particularly adept at inhabiting wiry new-wave songs (Hey) and shimmering retro pop (Not My Baby). Both are only a couple of steps removed from winking pastiche, but Alvvays pull it off with something to spare.

‘Antisocialites’ is loosely tethered to themes of escape, with lyrics that long for clean breaks and sometimes get their wish. Apparently derived from uncertainty at the possible arc of the band’s future, the record’s words are a neat, sometimes black-hearted counterpoint to its consistently pleasing melodies.

Throughout, Rankin sketches some wonderfully evocative moments. “I arrived at the scene you were perfectly surrounded by pylons,” she sings on Already Gone. “When the crowd separated the officer said you were already gone.” Your Type, meanwhile, has a rose-tinted view of youthful abandon that twists into darker waters: “Hop that fence if you wanna...then dissolve into the night.”

Detached, arch pop songs like these are usually at their best when there’s some love, hurt or malice behind their eyes, and Alvvays know it. ‘Antisocialites’ is a wily, hook-heavy collection that appears to let on only part of what it knows. It’s a sugar-rush that leaves a bitter, addictive aftertaste.

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