Album of the Month: Alvvays - Blue Rev
Dedication to producing art is a process that never truly ends. Every little piece is a chance at crafting perfection, and once it’s done, it’s on to the next one, another chance again, a new challenge in a familiar form. The Canadian band Alvvays had plenty of things throw up roadblocks on the five-year journey to their latest work; besides the pandemic, there were demo cache thefts and a near-miss total gear loss from a basement flood. But the group pressed on, and thankfully so; Blue Rev, the product of this wait across decade lines, is simply an absolute triumph of pop songwriting.
Alvvays have been slowly but surely building a catalog of indie pop gems since their 2014 self-titled debut. The band’s dreamy sonics and astute lyricism are as strong as ever on their third outing, but with all their core elements enhanced and elevated; the hooks are razor-sharp, the soundscapes are engrossing and varied, the songs at a basic level just extraordinary. Band leader Molly Rankin’s vocals are easily the most notable step up on the album, presenting her most acrobatic and memorable performances yet. Moments across the fourteen tracks where she soars to stunning highs or twists a melody in just the right way show that she and her writing (and life) partner, guitarist Alec O’Hanley, have been hard at work on placing every piece exactly where it belongs. Take the early album single “Easy On Your Own?”, with its crunchy, woozy chords and evocative lyrics on change and solitude, where Rankin really shoots for the stars on the song’s arresting bridge and final chorus. The following track “After The Earthquake” places the band’s Smiths adorations front-and-center, with a rollicking, jangly tale of a relationship on the rocks inspired by a Haruki Murakami short story collection. Alvvays draw inspiration from a variety of styles and sources across Blue Rev, to the noisy tell-offs to boys who don’t mind their business in “Pomeranian Spinster,” to the cinematic, synth and string yearnings of “Tile By Tile,” which finds Rankin pining on an unrequited love through phone calls and online personals. Elsewhere in internet-inspired material, file the digital opus “Very Online Guy” under “songs about social media that don’t fall flat under their subject,” accomplishing the amazing feat of depicting the life of a “reply guy” and still being a great song in spite of it.
At every corner, Rankin and company squeeze everything they can out of their new crop of songs: a vocal run here, a quick solo or fill there, a thought-provoking turn of phrase elsewhere. I’ll point to the late album standout “Belinda Says” as an excellent example of the band’s mastery of their sound. From top to bottom it’s got every part of a compelling pop song from people who have studied the form well, from a catchy chorus to that critical ending key change, all leading up to Rankin’s capstone closing line “Belinda says that heaven is a place on Earth / well so is hell.” Let me frame it in a different way: I hear a lot of music in my line of work, and it has been a long time since an album has left me awestruck in its songcraft. I believe Alvvays have made a phenomenal step forward, something akin to a dreamier take on Big Star’s debut #1 Record in terms of pop depth and artistry. Blue Rev is a towering achievement from a band that had already well-proven their skills, and an album I think will be lauded and referenced for years to come.
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