It seemed to go strangely under the radar for a lot of people, but back in 2014 the Canadian quartet Alvvays quietly released one of the best albums of the year. The band’s self-titled debut was that rare thing – a fully formed guitar pop gem, full of fuzzy, dreamy anthems elevated to another level by lead singer Molly Rankin’s breathy vocals. It also contained the best song of the year in the wonderous Archie, Marry Me, one of those songs that just never gets old no matter how many times you hear it.
For Antisocialities, Alvvays are in a tricky position – do you deliver more of the same, or try to improve an already successful formula? They’ve somehow managed to negotiate a middle way: much of Antisocialities is instantly, recognisably Alvvays, yet there’s more muscle, more swagger, a slightly crisper production courtesy of sometime St Vincent collaborator John Congleton, and most importantly, more of the same gorgeously winsome songs that were such a highlight of their debut.
There’s nothing that tops Archie Marry Me, but several track come close: Plimsoll Punks is an instantly catchy surf-pop epic featuring Rankin attempting to negotiate an ever higher falsetto, and opening track In Undertow is a gorgeously bittersweet break up song, posing questions such as “what’s left for you and me?” before coming to the conclusion that “there’s no turning back after what’s been said”. The presence of that master of the unrequited love song Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub on guitar only adds to the song’s magic.
There’s more than a few tracks on Antisocialities addressing a break-up, and it’s that which often gives the record its yearning, wistful quality. Not My Baby may seem like your common or garden jangly guitar song on first listen, but repeated plays expose a fragile heart: it concerns moving on after a relationship breaks down, but the way Rankin sings “now that you’re not my baby” suggests that there’s still a fair bit of wallowing to come.
Dreams Tonite is another fine example of Alvvays’ talent for dreamy pop music, a mid-paced ballad with a haunting refrain of “if I saw you in the streets, would I have you in my dreams tonight” – there’s a longing and vulnerability in Rankin’s voice that makes her one of the affecting singers around. On the other end of the scale is Lollipop (Ode to Jim), a bizarre fantasy about meeting Jim Reid from The Jesus & Mary Chain and taking LSD with him on a park bench. From the opening blast of J&MC-style feedback, it really shouldn’t work, but Alvvays push it through with such panache that it can’t help but be oddly charming.
Like its predecessor, Antisocialities clocks in at just 33 minutes, which in these days of 18-track ‘deluxe editions’, feels impossibly refreshing. The brevity means that as soon as the last chords of Forget About Life fade out in a squeal of feedback, you’ll want to go straight back to the start of In Undertow again. This is an album that confirms Alvvays’ massive potential and makes the perfect soundtrack for those nights indoors as the summer begins to fade.