Release Date: Jul 22, 2014
Record label: Polyvinyl
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Pop
Of any new band of 2014, Alvvays won me over the quickest (though I definitely did not write this review the quickest since this came out last Julyâ€¦) and their self-titled debut made the #6 spot on my unofficial personal Top 20 of 2014. I love me some '80s twee/indie pop, and this Toronto band is, knowingly, deeply indebted to that scene of K Records and UKâ€™s Sarah Records. They clearly have studied NME magazineâ€™s '80s cassettes like the legendary C86 comp that introduced much of North America to the Jesus and Mary Chain, The Pastels, The Wedding Present, Primal Scream and more.
As much mileage as bands have gotten out of the C86 sonic template (from the warm combustibility of the Jesus and Mary Chain's “Honey” to the twee-by-numbers of the Pains of Being Pure at Heart's debut album), the formula hasn't really shifted much over the years: lo-fi interpretations of Phil Spector's wall of sound, swaths of blown-out guitars playing well-worn pop chord progressions, occasional vocal harmonies employed almost solely to earn the inevitable '60s girl-group comparisons and maybe (okay, definitely) a synth player with librarian glasses. By the time Toronto's Alvvays, with their stylized name and demure stage presence, check all the boxes, most listeners will have already dismissed them as bargain-bin indie fare. This is a shame, because their self-titled debut isn't only a treat for the ears, but a worthwhile lesson in self-editing and millennial empathy.
Canadian band Alvvays (pronounced Always) are more indie than you. The lenses in their glasses are real, they know who all the bands pictured on their Tumblr actually are, and they have made one of the most jangle-filled and impressive debut albums of 2014 so far. The band started as a solo project for Molly Rankin, the daughter of famous Celtic musician John Morris Rankin, who died in a road accident when Molly was just 12 years old.
Alvvays are generally associated with other Toronto acts, but with members originating from Cape Breton and PEI, their sound is more rooted in the Maritime rock tradition than it may seem. That's because, for all its big city wit and cosmopolitan candour, Alvvays' self-titled debut is essentially a beach record. Buoyed by the effortlessly cool and deadpan delivery of lead singer Molly Rankin, it's hard to hear any trace of the folk-pop stylings from her initial solo forays on the band's first-ever LP.
In the past few years, it seems as if we have had more than our fair share of retro indie-pop acts, so much so that even by 2050 you suspect there will be musicians left will be those who record their songs in a tin-can, treat C86 like the Holy Bible (the book, not the Manics album), and cannot remember a time when Orange Juice and Postcard were just a drink and a way of showing off to your friends and relatives whilst abroad respectively. So it is with great trepidation that one might approach the self-titled debut album by the mercifully Googleable Canadian five-piece Alvvays. With their press releases highlighting their love of the golden greats of Scottish indie-pop, is this a case of more of the same? Well, yes and no, in the best way imaginable.
Alvvays play jingle-jangle fuzz pop that swims in reverb and lifts off with wistful melodies that stay with you long after the album ends. A lot of bands do this well. What sets the Toronto-based five-piece apart is band leader Molly Rankin's weary tone and lyrics. This isn't shiny, happy love-pop ….
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Jangly guitar-pop seems to have a cyclical lifespan. Just when you think that every possible thing a band could accomplish after being raised on a musical diet of '80s/90s indie has been done, along comes another band whose songs are so irresistible that you can't help but be swept off your feet. Adding a dash of shoegaze to the usual mix, Alvvays have kept their cards somewhat close to their chests since forming 2 years ago; it took them until October of last year to dust off their Soundcloud page and give us the first taste of what would become their debut album.
Canadian quintet Alvvays (pronounced "Always") burst out of the gates with their self-titled 2014 debut, a brief but bright collection of nine songs of nearly perfect, sugar-coated indie pop. The band call on inspiration from the jangly C-86 movement and bands like the Wedding Present or Talulah Gosh, but also lean on the fuzzy, homespun spirit of early American independent bedroom pop and twee while steeping their tunes in a languid dreaminess borrowed from Teenage Fanclub at their most wistful. The album opens with the one-two punch of "Adult Diversion" and "Archie, Marry Me," two single-worthy songs of noisy guitars, gloriously deadpan vocal harmonies, and sticky melodies cemented in the listener's skull by the interplay between guitar and singer Molly Rankin's cascading vocals.
Sometimes hooks are just hooks, catchy songs with no lofty cause or five-year plan. That’s the case with Alvvays, a Canadian group who exist as undying fans of a sucker-punch melody. Their songs document love, “cocktails”, awkward exchanges and tough times. But that’s not the important part ….
Alvvays are deceptively straightforward. Their name looks like it should be pronounced by a drunk Heidi Klum, but it is actually said how it appears at a quick glance. (The proper spelling of “always” was already taken, and this new band from the remote outskirts of Canada wasn’t looking to enter the musical world’s skeptical spotlight with lawsuits in tow.) Their music could conceivably sound fresh or difficult to pin down, but only if your background doesn’t include much from C86 bands or twee or early R.E.M.
Yes, it’s “Alvvays” as in “always,” not “All-vays”—but that typographic quirk is more than just an opportunistic ploy for this Toronto quintet to enhance its search engine optimization. (If anything, Alvvays’ dual affinities for post-C86 girl-group revisionism and dusty-grooved distortion strongly suggest they’re yearning for a time when seeking out bands involved trans-Atlantic fanzine correspondence and mail-order forms. ) Apparently, the curious spelling was implemented to avoid confusion with the bygone, like-minded British indie-pop outfit with the same name.
Fuzz pop is a genre of music that has been surging in popularity of late. It is the kind of aesthetic that brings to mind early evening strolls down some nameless boulevard in Southern California. In my experience, though, many of the bands that tackle this sound tend to lean a little too heavily on the “fuzz factor”. This may be, in part, a kind of survival strategy as much as anything else.
In John Green's The Fault In Our Stars, eye cancer patient Isaac expressed his love for his then-girlfriend Monica by incessantly exchanging the phrase "always," indicating their devotion to one another. It's a word that's often drenched in hyperbolized romance, one that simultaneously signifies yesteryear and hopes for tomorrow. It also makes something of a perfect name for Toronto-based band Alvvays (pronounced "always").
Never mind their linguistically questionable band name, a play on consonants that should help ameliorate their SEO reach, Alvvays is but a presentational quirk that’s as ambivalent as the music they’re inspired to play. The fey nonchalance found in the Toronto quartet’s debut effort taps into a vast compendium of reverb-soaked indie pop, one that covers a good portion of twee’s thirty years without overly reading into every single detail. Such is the approach of early twenty-somethings soaking up the digital annals of You Tube with a voracious sense of discovery, learning by capriciously adopting past sounds without concerning themselves with the reputation their influences have acquired throughout the years.
Somewhere between Belle and Sebastian, the Vivian Girls and Real Estate, Canadian five-piece Alvvays fix their gaze on awkward social moments and unrequited love, while setting their tales to breezy, literate indie-rock. It's whimsical and at times meandering, but has enough to it that it doesn't fall into that most pointless of categories: twee. Songs about matrimony (Marry Me, Archie), defiant lovers (Party Police) and rejection (The Agency Group) are all covered with Molly Rankin's drawling vocal, cloaking everything in a layer of longing and reflection.
The jangling indie template adopted by Alvvays for their debut album is unlikely to win them any awards for originality. But the Toronto five-piece manage to put a fresh spin on the subgenre, helped in large part by Molly Rankin's sublime vocals – part yearning, part vulnerable, never more so than on Archie, Marry Me, a heartfelt plea to a chap with "contempt for matrimony". Adult Diversion and Next of Kin fairly skip along as well, the melancholic lyrics at odds with the unabashedly joyous accompaniment.
Buzzband du jour, Toronto’s Alvvays are cementing themselves quickly as far more than just a sparked pan-flash. Decked out in fuzzy warmth, youthful themes and angelic ebullience, the spangly sprogs add many a fresh twist on the tried-‘n’-tested scuzz-pop; SoCal-ers, eat your hearts out. This is Canada’s genre now. Luring us in to the lair of Alvvays have been two standout cuts: “Adult Diversion” and “Archie, Marry Me”.
The breezy guitars, midcentury beehive-indebted melodies and general aw shucks-ness of the flood of surf-gaze bands from the last few years are like summer—you’d have to be Dick Cheney in a particularly sour mood not to enjoy it. But even the most golden-haired surfer needs to eventually get out of the sand and go eat something, run in late to work, and ultimately cede that the days are getting shorter. Unless you’re all “tra-la-la,” which is fine, but not Alvvays.Alvvays’ version of squinting ahead in the calendar includes a slight icy air (maybe because they’re from Toronto?) to their beachy vibes on this nine-song debut .