The Canadian group Alvvays burst onto the scene in 2014 with their superb debut record, on which the band took the building blocks of the British indie pop scene of the 1980s and made it their own. The record’s melodic, jangly guitar arrangements were paired with frontwoman Molly Rankin’s terrific songwriting, which boasted cleverly written metaphors and vocal hooks that could get stuck in your head for weeks
On their sophomore outing Antisocialities, the band have refined all the aspects that made Alvvays such a compelling listen and have turned in another superlative pop record.
The record opens with “In Undertow”, one of 2017’s best singles. It’s an extraordinary piece of songwriting, driven by a solid use of water imagery (“you find a wave and try to hold on for as long as you can”) to describe a relationship nearing its end. The best thing about frontwoman Molly Rankin’s lyrics on the track is how she uses half-rhymes in the verses and word-changes in the bridges (a change from “astrology” in one verse to “psychology” in another results the following line from “won’t rely on the moon for anything” to “mood for anything”), which make her vocals melodically compelling
The song’s nautical feel is compounded by the guitars and keyboards that swirl around another, but not to the gauzy effect that other great dream pop acts typically do. Instead, the instruments – and the guitars in particular – have a bit of propulsion to them, which makes it seem like Rankin’s voice is gliding along the song’s surface.
“In Undertow” is followed by another knock-out single in “Dreams Tonite”. A low-key, mid-tempo song, “Dreams Tonite” is quieter some other tracks that surround it, which allows it to pop out more on the record even in its early placing in the tracklist. It’s another song about the end of a relationship, but the lyrics have moved on from the uncertain future of “In Undertow” to a definite break here; There’s more of a sense of loss and hurt in lyrics like “who starts a fire to let it go out”; But Rankin continues to show her talent for writing detailed asides like “counting motorbikes, on the turnpikes, one of Eisenhower’s”, which add a lot of color and character to the song’s sense of setting.
The rest of Antisocialities makes good on the fantastic first impression that starting off with the two of the best songs of the year can give an album. “Not My Baby” is perhaps that record’s most synth-heavy moment and at the end feels like the inverse of “In Undertow”, where the vocals wind up swirling around a fairly sturdy guitar line. “Hey” opens with a motorik groove from the rhythm section of bassist Brian Murphy and session drummer Chris Dadge that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Stereolab song, and the rest of the song, including Rankin’s vocal, move at a brisk pace to keep up with it.
“Your Type” is a brisk two-minute power pop tune about a guy who is just about the biggest walking red flag in the universe. The song’s bridges features terrific backing vocals, from Rankin and keyboardist Kerri McLellan, which had have always seemed to be a secret weapon for the band; They’re typically subtle throughout Antisocialites, but they add a lot of depth to the band’s sound, particularly on songs like “Saved by a Waif” and the aforementioned “Dreams Tonite”.
Another highlight is the quirky “Plimsoll Punks”, where the band feels as if they are bursting with energy, particularly guitarists Rankin and Alec O’Hanley, whose glimmering riffs on the bridge perfectly complement Rankin’s own vocal melody. At times, the song recalls Television Personalities laconic 1978 single “Part Time Punks”, but while it carries that song’s acerbic nature in the lyrics it musically has a bit more of a bounce to it.
Clocking in at just 32 minutes, Antisocialities makes for a fairly quick listen, but only increases the likelihood for a second playthrough from those who fall in love with its catchy hooks and introspective lyrics. The album is a superlative effort from Alvvays, and one that firmly cements them as one of Canada’s best rock groups.