By Lexi Weaver || Copy Editor
Canadian indie pop band Alvvays has been making waves since 2014, with hit song “Archie, Marry Me” cementing the band’s hazy, dreamy style. Led by singer Molly Rankin, the five-person band released two albums in the mid-2010s, 2014’s self-titled Alvvays and 2017’s Antisocialites. Alvvays’ music features noisy guitars, soft, dreamy vocals, and lyrics about relationships and the complexities of modern life. Their music has always veered close to the shoegaze style, which treats vocals more like an instrument and focuses on crafting an all-embracing wall of beautiful noise. The band captures this style perfectly on their most recent album Blue Rev, which was released earlier this month on October 7. Preceded by five singles starting in July 2022—Pharmacist, Easy On Your Own?, Belinda Says, Very Online Guy, and After the Earthquake—the long-awaited album finds the band embracing its noisier side while still capturing the unique style of their earlier works. With retro styling and a vibrant musical direction, Blue Rev displays shoegaze at its most energetic: bright, noisy, and dynamic.
The album kicks off with lead single “Pharmacist,” which begins with Rankin’s gauzy vocals before devolving into loud, distorted guitars. The chorus calls back to a recurrent theme in Alvvays’s discography of relationships, with the lyrics “I know it happens all the time, it’s alright / I know I never crossed your mind” speaking to a relationship that has ended that the speaker is still trying to move on from. Rankin spoke to the song’s lyrics in an interview on After School Radio by stating the song was about “…the pain of seeing things differently than you imagined,” which is captured in the opening lines of the song, where seeing someone’s sister at a pharmacy causes old memories to come flooding back. The flood of these memories that the song follows can also be seen in the instrumentation itself, where the crash of noise that occurs after the first line mimics the emotions of the song’s speaker.
Alvvays plays with sound in an interesting way on the album as well, with tracks such as “After the Earthquake” moving from the highs of turbulent guitars to the lows of whispered vocals. Here, silence is as impactful as sound, as the bridge leading up to the final chorus slowly crescendos into a dynamic guitar solo to end the song. The sonic contrast between the soft, whispered vocals and the crash of guitar imbues “After the Earthquake” with a brightness and energy that pushes the song to its conclusion. Other songs on the album similarly play with quieter intros exploding into a noisier chorus, such as “Easy On Your Own?”
The album has a uniquely retro feel to it, playing with hallmarks of 80s and 90s music both sonically and aesthetically. Many of the promotional materials and music/lyric videos for the album use retro-styled aesthetics such as vaporwave, bright colors, and pixel art. Songs like “Very Online Guy” use synths and distorted audio to experiment with sound, while the music video for “Very Online Guy” similarly distorts the video using a pixelated effect, making the images look as choppy and blurry as the sound of the song evokes. This is used to juxtapose the lyrics of “Very Online Guy,” which speaks to the obsession with being constantly up-to-date on internet culture. However, the retro aesthetic of the song emphasizes the theme of social detachment that results from this. The titular “Very Online Guy” ends up being stuck in the past in an effort to stay relevant.
Much of the imagery associated with the album is abstract and immaterial, such as the video for “Belinda Says” consisting of flashes of abstract art. The song’s title as well references the 80s hit “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” by Belinda Carlisle. The sonic style of the album is reflected perfectly in the band’s aesthetic direction for this new era of music, implementing retro styling to in turn update the sound of indie pop and shoegaze. Rankin explains the influence of jangly 90s rock bands like Teenage Fanclub and Yo La Tengo in an article with Stereogum, emphasizing the effect of older musical styles on a chaotic but lively new sound. This aesthetic direction also reflects the lyrical side of the album, which speaks to the impact that the past has on the present through relationships with other people. The merging of styles old and new allows for engaging experimentation and crystalizes the album’s themes.
Looking at the entire album, my favorite track is “Pomeranian Spinster,” which is severely underrated but captures such a strong, fiery energy that’s impossible to ignore. The song kicks off with the lyrics “Don’t wanna be nice,” and from there keeps up the energy as it follows the speaker coming into their own confidence and thinking back on what could have been if they had stood up for themselves. I have a soft spot for angry girl anthems and this is definitely up there with some of my favorites. It’s as noisy and fun as many of the other tracks on the album, but the clever lyrics make this a stand-out for me. Rankin might call “Pomeranian Spinster” her “most prickly song” according to Rolling Stone, but its independent attitude and determined lyricism have most certainly endeared me.
On the whole, Blue Rev is an album that is always moving forward, bringing a dynamic energy that propels listeners through its 38 minute run time. The songs are mostly short and snappy, and the instrumentation used across the album allows the tracks to seamlessly transition from one to another. While this aspect of the album makes for a great listening experience, sometimes songs get lost along the way as a result of the loud, distorted guitar that can make it difficult to differentiate between one song ending and another beginning. However, this makes the more experimental tracks on the album stand out, and is indicative of how exciting this new direction is for the band. Blue Rev is proof that the Alvvays renaissance is very much present—merging classic styles with innovative experimentation that pushes shoegaze and indie pop towards a bright new vision.
Junior Lexi Weaver is a Copy Editor. Her email is email@example.com.