By Isabel Corp
We all love a good “beating the odds” story. And the way Alvvays’ third album was conceived amounts to a Shakespearean epic where the endgame is triumph instead of tragedy. Many obstacles stood in the way of this album’s completion, from flooding to demo theft, closed borders, lineup changes, and a global pandemic.
But the members of Alvvays were not deterred by these challenges. Armed with a brand new rhythm section and assistance from indie super-producer Shawn Everett (The War on Drugs, Big Thief), the beloved Toronto dream pop veterans have finally unveiled their third album, Blue Rev, five years after the release of their 2017 sophomore album, Antisocialites.
Blue Rev is a dense exploration of various nostalgic sounds from power pop to folk and shoegaze. The best way I can describe the overall sound is to imagine a slow-burning romance between Alex Chilton’s brokenhearted powerpop paeans and Kevin Shields’ shoegaze slide technique. They’re tentative about approaching one another at the beginning, but once they strike up a conversation, the chemistry is electric. All of the mountainous peaks on this album — every pedal-laden guitar solo, every wheezing synth, and every reverberating wail from frontwoman Molly Rankin — represents the rapturous consummation of this relationship.
This is not an album that allows listeners to sit down and gather their thoughts after one spin. Every listen will turn over a new leaf. Blue Rev is a lavish sonic temple decked out with noodly guitar solos, devastating lyrical revelations, and nostalgia-fueled easter eggs. For example, “After the Earthquake” references Murder She Wrote, and the deeply reflective “Belinda Says” contains an homage to “Heaven is a Place on Earth” by the Go-Gos. The double impact of the drums and swelling feedback on the opening track “Pharmacist,” is a full-on sonic assault capable of turning listeners’ heads 360 degrees.
But Rankin’s performance is what really pushes all of these elements over the edge. Her writing is layered with wry humor, self-deprecating tangents and detours, and serious literary panache. The narrative-driven songwriting was primarily inspired by Alice Munro’s short stories. “I love that she has the ability to knock the wind out of you with a 12-page short story, and you’re just left reeling. I would love to be able to do that with a song,” Rankin told the New York Times.
For instance, Rankin writes about descending into a spiral of low self-esteem after running into an ex-partner’s sister in public on the opening track, “Pharmacist.” “Easy on Your Own?” grapples with the weight of college debt and the uncertainty of onset adulthood (“And how I gauge/Whether this is stasis or change/Fill out the requirements on the page/And burn out before you can get paid”). On “Very Online Guy,” Rankin takes on overzealous reply guys (“We all know everything that he says and does/Leave your location on and just follow the buzz”). “After the Earthquake” is a jangly ripper with a gnarly guitar solo so bright and hooky that it’s impossible not to mouth along to it as it plays out. This is closely followed by Rankin’s desperate, keening wail of “Say you'll climb your way out of your wake now.” The shimmering strings and dark, moody piano on “Tile to Tile” are another major highlight, while the clashing pyrotechnics in the background of “Pomeranian Spinster” are almost Sonic Youth-ian. And the closing track, “Fourth Figure,” is a straight-up orchestral lullaby with no percussion, the classic album ender that slows things down to center the listener and bring them back to earth.
All in all, this album is an immersive experience that deserves your full attention. Turn off all the lights, block out any intruding thoughts, and get ready to belt every guitar solo — not sing, BELT — and cheer like you’re watching Rankin stand tall in the face of a tsunami with two middle fingers in the air.
Listen to Blue Rev via all DSPs HERE.
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