In 2015, English alt rock band Wolf Alice launched themselves to popularity in the London music scene with a sound Clash Magazine described as “the lovechild of folk and grunge.” Their debut, My Love is Cool, earned them comparisons to bands like Hole and the Arctic Monkeys, as well as an opportunity to tour extensively with The 1975. Considering their early success, there was a bit of pressure on the band to create a sophomore album that would live up to their freshman hype.
Visions of a Life, the band’s follow up album to My Love is Cool, certainly lives up to these expectations.Visions of a Life is exactly what it sounds like–an exploration of all facets of life, for better or worse. While the topics range from existential anxiety to finding people you love to the death of a close relative, they’re handled with Wolf Alice’s unique blend of grunge guitar, dreamy synth, and vocals to fit any occasion. There’s an edge to every song, even the most ethereal of tunes. In an interview with Beats 1, the band explained that the rest of the album wouldn’t necessarily match the first single, the angry breakup song “Yuk Foo.” “I think hopefully when people hear the whole thing it won’t be so all over the place…There’s hopefully something for everyone,” lead singer Ellie Rowsell explained. Rowsell got her wish; while Visions of a Life features a myriad of different topics and vibes, they all come together to form a cohesive listening experience about the human condition.
To begin, Wolf Alice starts at the end; the album is starts and ends with songs about death. ”Heavenward” pays tribute to a departed friend in a calm, accepting way, while the titular track “Visions of a Life” takes on three different musical movements to explore the unhappiness that drives a person towards suicide. Songs like the dark “Planet Hunter” and the contemplative “Sky Musings” explore greater existential crises during life, albeit with some unfortunate whisper-singing.
Not all of the subject matter is so heavy or dark; “Don’t Delete the Kisses” is a straight-up love song that explores the simple pleasures of being with another person in the early stages of a relationship. Leaning heavily on the synth, Rowsell sings, “I’m retelling jokes you made that made me laugh/Pretending that they’re mine/I wanna tell the whole world about you/I Think that that’s a sign.” It’s a very sincere, happy track that breaks up some of the angst nicely with its sheer brightness.
The album also features a few concept songs, including album highlights “Beautifully Unconventional” and “Formidable Cool.” “Beautifully Unconventional” pulls inspiration from the cult classic Heathers, directly referencing the movie to explore what happens when you meet that one friend who fits with you perfectly. Its rollicking guitar riffs and rhythmic chorus make this one quite memorable. “Formidable Cool,” inspired by Emma Cline’s novel The Girls, is a vaguely psychedelic track tells the story of a charming man that cons younger girls. With a sound that’s somewhere between Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and CAKE’s “Comfort Eagle” and a message about the dangers of con artists, this one is definitely an album highlight.
Considering how varied the subject matter and sound is from song to song on Visions of a Life, you’d think that the overall listening experience couldn’t be as cohesive as it is in reality. One minute they’re singing about the simple pleasures of being in love, the next about the idea that happiness isn’t necessarily an enduring fact of life. Moods transition on the album the way they do in life; at times a gradual shift, at times a sudden switch. The best thing about Visions of a Life is that no matter what kind of mood you’re in, you’re in luck–there truly is something for everyone.