Pomeranian Coast

On “Blue Rev” Alvvays finds euphoria in the noise

It’s only six seconds after the first song on their latest album that Alvvays pulls a new trick up his sleeve. “Pharmacist” feels like what it is for a moment: a long-awaited reunion with those Canadian noise-pop dealers in their small town, some muted synth notes and a preset drum machine ticking while Molly Rankin sighs , “I know you’re back, I saw your sister at…” until the moment a whirl of noise rises in the mix to meet and almost envelop her voice, and you can barely make out a syllable.

A shift in emphasis from lyrics to texture might be purely aesthetic – a snarl of noise from a band that had already perfected their clean balance of distorted guitars and delicately observed, sometimes jagged lyrics and melodies. But the members of Alvvays who have taken five years to make the exciting new album blue rev, use distortions with the same care that Rankin always took when writing lyrics. These are 14 snappy songs that will linger in your brain long after they’ve ended, thanks largely to the group’s ability to repeatedly bring reliable song machines into dazed imbalances.

If you heard the tongue-in-cheek, anti-establishment-but-pro-engagement anthem “Archie, Marry Me” on a college or public radio rock station nearly a decade ago, or on an indie pop playlist since then, performed by a major streaming service has been put together; or if you fell in love with the group’s second album, antisocialistsa near-perfect collection of songs that embody the post-quarterlife impulse to choose against societal expectations, the relative cacophony of blue rev hits the ear first, as if rivaling the clarity of Rankin’s storytelling. But the constant back and forth between her voice and the noise that sometimes surrounds her builds a euphoric heaviness. The effect is like a slowly rising tide or a change in atmospheric pressure; a signal of an approaching threat, or perhaps just a weight of accumulated responsibility that changes you when you carry it.

When I called Rankin from Toronto the week before the release of blue revshe insisted that the goal in cranking up the distortion wasn’t to “facelift” the band’s sound. Instead, she and fellow guitarist Alec O’Hanley — also her partner and co-songwriter — used the time isolation offered them during the pandemic to focus on a passion they share for what was “fogging them, bendable guitars,” specifically the “ruthless bending note” that runs through the teenage fan club song “Everything Flows,” which she called “kind of my favorite sound.”

“I’ve always appreciated the dynamics and conversation between Alec’s guitar and my voice,” Rankin said. However, in making the new album, she wanted to find a new balance, which began with the guitars challenging her voice. “But there are a lot of belts on the record. It’s not like I’ve disappeared.”

Unlike My Bloody Valentine’s immersive maelstrom or Low’s recent existential swan leap in oversaturation and static, blue rev is not awash in noise. Instead, almost every song is roughed up in its own way, and Rankin, at the center of the storm, steels himself and pushes back. “After The Earthquake” is a sonorous sprint overlooking the rubble of a recent disaster, with impressionistic detail – Angela Lansbury’s voice pouring out of a nearby television “drowned out by the din of the noise in the hall” – that turns so quickly, what remains is a feeling of adrenaline-charged disorientation. “Very Online Guy,” a takedown of a creep that’s “just a photo, a follow, a filter away,” begins with a keyboard line that’s simultaneously goofy and sinister, then runs Rankin’s voice through effects that drown it out or suppress within an echo chamber. On “Pressed,” she sings “You’ve been reading me pedantic poetry for a long time and I’d smile” over a breakneck riff that’s the best argument imaginable for fearlessly embracing Johnny Marr’s signature guitar sound. Pomeranian Spinster’s super ball bounce has you believing that an elderly dog ​​lover who’d rather not hear your thoughts about running in her tights is the last punk alive.

In her ability to observe and impale manners, lyricist Rankin reminds me most of James Mercer, particularly his early Shins and Flake Music songs. Like these, Alvvay’s songs have always been weightlessly melodic, but Rankin increasingly writes and sings pictorial fragmented sentences that seem endless; they circle back on themselves or make logical leaps or pile up like a late-night conversation between friends or a swear word that loses its own sense of internal logic to a rising emotional tide. For a musician raised in a coastal region in an age of menacing seas, it’s no wonder Rankin has a flair for how intimacy can be threatened by impending catastrophe.

Speaking of the music industry…the fact that blue rev Sounds like some records from the CD era, but it’s born into our era of copious streaming, from the perspective of a listener who spent months sifting through used CD jars to find a copy of the first My Bloody Valentine album , less than a decade after its release, somewhat of a blessing. In 2022, it’s easy to take the privilege of having an entire career of songs at our fingertips for granted, but we shouldn’t. After the swim blue revI spiraled back through Alvvays’ compact, immediate, and consistently satisfying catalog in which songs I’d loved for years sounded newly exuberant or tragic or wistful in a way that marked tragedy as the end of an arc ending in exuberance started.

Listen closely to “Belinda Says,” one of the most emotionally powerful songs on the new album, and you can hear how the carefree sailing of “Archie, Marry Me” gives way to a tale of careless young love that doesn’t make it off steer away rocks. For most of the song, Rankin’s voice struggles to be heard over raging, pounding guitars until the bridge dies out and she sings with quiet uncertainty, “Moving to the country / gonna have this baby / see how es geht.” / See it grow.” It’s a culmination of the band’s dynamic new method, an almost Alice Munro-esque tale of how important choices – even those that protect personal morals and preferences – transform life’s limitlessness into one Refining reality whose dimensions are devastatingly narrow, even when joy is near.

“Now that we’ve been through a lot of mirrors,” Rankin sings at one point on the new album, “I can’t believe we’re still the same.” Alvvays has changed and not. There’s nothing wrong with calling blue rev a breakthrough, but the album doesn’t set itself apart from the band’s catalogue—it deepens it.

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