Alvvays may have to contend with unreasonably high expectations of their second album, but – trust me – ‘Antisocialites’ is that good.
The first time I heard the Toronto-based group was in Rough Trade East on a balmy August evening in 2014. I’d read a brief write-up on one of their singles that same day, but that was it. With no previous introduction and half a song into their set, I’d reached over to the display next to me and picked up a copy of their debut album. They were that good.
Fast forward to over three years later and I’m standing in a sold-out Saint Luke’s while the packed crowd shuffles impatiently and a leaden Glasgow sky repetitively empties on any unfortunate latecomers. By the time Alvvays take to the stage it’s clear that this band has been away too long. The smile on frontwoman Molly Rankin’s face says it all – once everyone has warmed up, the audience reaction befits a homecoming. Saying the new album is eagerly awaited is an understatement.
Despite the anticipation, ‘Antisocialites’ (released on 8 September via Transgressive Records) has some big shoes to fill. When you’ve had an almost instantaneous love for a debut album it’s easy to assume that your expectations for the follow-up may be a bit on the unreasonable side, but you have them anyway.
One song into the album and I soon realise that my high expectations might be met. Album opener and first single ‘In Undertow’ has a shoegaze sound that creates the perfect backdrop to Rankin’s resigned declaration that “there’s no turning back after what’s been said”. The repetition throughout the chorus adds weight to her words and complements the droning synths and guitars. It’s less lo-fi and more synth-driven than we’ve heard them up until now and that welcome development continues throughout the 10 tracks (at just 33 minutes) of the album.
Second single ‘Dreams Tonite’ paints a different picture of a break-up – more swooning melancholy awash in dream-pop than level-headed resignation – as Rankin questions “Who starts a fire just to let it go out?”. ‘Plimsoll Punks’ is all taunting lyrics and punchy hooks, creating a ridiculously catchy sing-along chorus that reminds me of ‘Crash’ by The Primitives. It also provides Rankin with the opportunity to show off her full vocal range – sending her voice diving to the depths of her stomach before soaring skywards with child-like innocence and confidence.
The further I delve into this album, the more I hear elements of cherished bands – that R.E.M. jangle, a dreamy Camera Obscura haze, the thrill of Talking Heads eccentricities – but these aren’t cheap imitations of what makes other bands great, this is simply Alvvays honing their sound.
‘Your Type’ is a raucous and defiant ode to that person that manages to do and say the thing that always makes you cringe – “I die on the inside every time, you will never be alright, I will never be your type”. ‘Not My Baby’ is unapologetic shimmering pop and leaves the pretty but plaintive refrain of “now you’re not” reverberating in your head long after it’s ended. ‘Hey’ is breathlessly quick and exhilarating before we get the equally quirky ‘Lollipop (Ode To Jim)’ – a surf-infused dance floor filler that would be right at home playing on prom night.
‘Already Gone’ swirls and spirals as Rankin reflects on endings – the end of summer mentioned neatly coinciding with the album drawing to a close. ‘Saved By A Waif’ has hints of britpop chart-smashers like Sleeper before the echoing ‘Forget About Life’ completes the album with soaring and sparkling synths.
‘Antisocialites’ is an album reflecting on break-ups – “This record is a fantasy breakup arc and my life nearly imitated art.” says Rankin – but these real or fictional relationships are all that Alvvays seem to have lost. They’ve certainly kept their sense of humour and witty commentary on life and love. They’ve even gained from their experimentation with a more polished and synth-driven quality, which has developed their sound further than I expected.
What they’ve given me is an enthralling addition to my record collection – one that made me lose my inhibitions, shake off my usual antisocial nature and dance-walk through a train station grinning at everyone. Yeah, ‘Antiscocialites’ is really that good.