The Same as Alvvays? The Good, the Bad, and the Shoegaze
After nearly five years, 1855 days, 44,529 hours, 2,671,740 minutes, and 160,304,400 seconds, Canadian indie darlings Alvvays released their third studio album Blue Rev. Alvvays started writing the record shortly after releasing Antisocialites in 2017, but personal disasters, lineup changes, and a global pandemic followed caused a delay. What emerged is, in part, a refreshing evolution of the band's sound, though far from perfect. This change comes with growing pains like forgettable songs, a significantly weaker second half, and an instance of poor album sequencing.
Blue Rev is a sonic conclusion to what has always been deep down in Alvvays’s roots: shoegaze. Since their earliest hits like “Archie, Marry Me,” the band has dabbled in noisy and washed-out guitars, but the shoegaze influences were alvvays :) pushed to the background of a song. They were an additional textural element, but these loud bendy guitars are now pushed to the musical forefront. Blue Rev sees Alvvays fully embrace their influence, My Bloody Valentine, only to reinterpret their sound with lush pop melodies and full synths. This new sound sometimes mirrors the eclectic dream pop/shoegaze band Lush. With Blue Rev, Alvvays welcomes maximalism as they try to fill the mix with noise so the frequencies clash, creating more harmonies and dissonance.
Alvvays doesn’t reinvent how they mix their songs, but they do push it in a slightly new direction. The mixes have the same building blocks, but their proportions are different. The drums still offer a punchy backbone to their pop-leaning tracks while taking a backseat in the ballads. At climactic moments, the cymbals cut through the mix, giving heavier accents to rhythms that would otherwise remain monotonous. The guitars perfectly change between the jangly cleans, distorted leads, and the psychedelic shoegaze. Regardless of their style, the guitars still provide a pivotal harmonic and melodic tone to complement the vocals. Lead singer Molly Rankin’s voice offers the same melancholic, nostalgic, and dreamy range. New to the Alvvays recipe is a near-constant conflict between Molly’s voice and the lead guitar, forcing her softer vocals to sound like belts. The result is a far noisier album compared to anything Alvvays has made.
Nowhere is this noise evolution more evident than on the most dynamic track of the album, “Belinda Says.” The guitars and Molly’s vocals are most robust and varied here. She begins in her usual tone, but her voice finds a new energy when the second chorus erupts. After a brief synth interlude, all the instruments swell together as she declares, “Belinda says that heaven is a place or earth, Well so is hell.” The guitars embrace your ears like a heat wave, and their tones melt away into a hazy mix. The new vocal range perfectly complements the latest addition to the Alvvays sound.
Thematically, this is still the same Alvvays. The lyricism feels down-to-earth and personal. For example, the second single, “Easy On Your Own?” begins with an emphatic declaration of dropping out of college before quickly reminiscing about the integration into the capitalist workflow. The nine-to-five is lonely and isolating—relationships come and go, years are wasted, and time never stops flowing. However, this song epitomizes the lack of growth in the band’s storytelling. The sheer amount of time between the Antisocialites and Blue Rev should have seen some new thematic depth from the band. Instead, the band still treads similar thematic ground.
Despite this musical leap forward, many songs feel incomplete. The latter half of the album blends together and is sometimes forgettable. The songs are far too short compared to their earlier work. Too often, Alvvays chooses to fade out or transition into a guitar solo exactly when the track becomes the most interesting. This leads to many songs feeling incomplete and renders guitar solos unrewarding. For Alvvays guitar solos work best as bridges rather than outros. This issue is most evident in the first single, “Pharmacist,” and the tenth track, “Pomeranian Spinster.” “Pharmacist” is a phenomenal introduction to the album. The guitar solo is an absolute masterclass in interesting lead lines, but having a solo as an outro in this song makes it feel like musical edging. This doesn’t necessarily come from an inability to create a satisfying ending, but all their new choices are questionable.
Overall, Alvvays haven't revolutionized their sound. They’re still the same Indie rock band that soundtracked the lives of so many college millennials. They’ve adopted a more ambitious and maximalist approach to their sonic landscape. However, with this growth, the band has lost its ability to make compelling conclusions to its songs, causing the album to feel incredibly front-loaded. If you’re a more casual listener, the singles and “Belinda Says” give the best listening experience. If you’re a die-hard Alvvays or Shoegaze fan, this album is a must-listen despite its faults.
Rating: I N D Y
Andres is a junior in the SFS studying Culture & Politics