in Review

Alvvays – Blue Rev

I talked about Alvvays’s Blue Rev on a semi-recent podcast, so I don’t need to go into it too deeply, but it’s worth sparing a few words for since it is undoubtedly one of my favorite albums of the year. This has been a bit of a surprise since I once unfairly wrote Alvvays off as nothing more than another very good mid-’00s indie-pop band during an era when such a thing was starting to feel less and less essential. However, five years and a pandemic later, they’ve dropped this absolute stunner of an album that has all of the things that made this band so likable in the past, and yet there’s a newfound boldness mixed with an open-hearted sincerity that makes the album both affecting and highly listenable at the same time.

It seems that Alvvays arrived at this sound by being a little more open to experimenting with the album’s production, courtesy of Grammy-winning producer Shawn Everett. These little sonic touches add some nice flourishes and give the songs some sophisticated heft, even if they would already be impeccably-written songs regardless. This is because beneath the album’s pulsating drones of shimmering synths and fuzzily melodic guitars is some heartbreakingly reflective songwriting courtesy of lead singer Molly Rankin. In a Pitchfork profile of the band from earlier this year, Rankin revealed that much of the songs on the album were influenced by her grappling with being the child of one of the members of the accomplished Canadian folk band The Rankin Family, which was coupled with the isolation of a pandemic spent on an island across the way from the Alvvays’s home base of Toronto.

Because there is a heavy heaping of tenderness in these lyrics, I am glad that the album lets Rankin’s voice stay at the forefront while the band indulges an even more shoegaze-inspired sound. I often grapple with this genre’s tendency to let any sort of tangible lyrics get lost in a haze of distorted guitars and busybody drums, but by keeping Rankin’s finely-tuned lyrics and melodies at the front of the mix, you get one of the better combinations of shoegaze and power pop that I can remember. “Belinda Says” might be the finest example of this, with its droning guitars that cut out in lieu of bittersweet lyrics about heading to the country and having that baby. But at the same time, the album is filled with so many other high points that sneak up on you despite the somewhat dreamy, amorphous shape of the album, which just makes me want to listen to Blue Rev even more in the hopes of figuring out how Alvvays pulled it off.

Favorite Tracks: “Pharmacist”, “Belinda Says”, “Lottery Noises”