A more muscular sound and a line-up change marks the welcome triumph over adversity that is the Torontarians’ third record
It’s been an eventful five years for Alvvays, the Canadian band responsible for one of the very best songs of the decade in Archie, Marry Me. This third album has been a long time in the making, and the band have had to contend with line-up changes (the old rhythm section of Brian Murphy and Phil MacIsaac have been replaced by Abbey Blackwell and Sheridan Riley), the theft of a collection of demos from lead singer Molly Rankin’s home, and a flood which nearly ruined the band’s equipment. Oh, and a certain global pandemic also happened.
Alvvays could have been forgiven for thinking the fates were against them, but Blue Rev shows them sounding impossibly re-energised. The addition of Blackwell and Riley have, if anything, made the band’s sound even more muscular, with several songs on the album veering into My Bloody Valentine shoegaze territory. Recorded live in the studio, the band and producer Shawn Everett have performed a very effective job of transplanting the band’s live energy onto record.
Their love of a jangly melody still shines through though. Opening track Pharmacist is just two minutes long, and underneath the reverb drenched guitars is another of Molly Rankin’s affecting, bittersweet songs. Easy On Your Own? showcases the band’s expertise in a soaring, glorious chorus, and is one of those songs that just has to be played loud for its full effectiveness. It’s also a song that displays Rankin’s touch with a poetic lyric, describing college education as “a dull knife” and conjuring up images of “crawling in monochromatic hallways”.
Rankin can also be a very funny lyricist, as the takedown of ‘reply guy culture’ Very Online Guy shows (“he laps up all domains, and he loves a patio, he’s only one flicker, only one photo, one filter away”), and can also pen a little vignette that says so much in just a couple of minutes, with Bored In Bristol, a fantasy about running away from a town and “always waiting” for something to happen. A similar tale is told in the plaintive Belinda Says, with its protagonist dreaming of “moving to the country, gonna have that baby” while paying homage to Belinda Carlisle.
Best of all is the fact that Alvvays’ ability to conjure up a dreamy, wistful song from out of nowhere remains undimmed. Many Mirrors is a lovely, hazy ode to long-term commitment (“now that we’ve passed so many mirrors, I can’t believe we’re still the same”), and After The Earthquake’s opening guitar riff tumbles in to usher in a tune so buoyant and upbeat that it immediately makes you want to jump up and dance.
Even with 14 tracks, Blue Rev never seems to outstay its welcome. That’s probably helped by some curveballs that the band throw, whether that be the sudden changes of tempo in the aforementioned After The Earthquake, or the ethereal strings and choral vocals of the closing Fourth Figure. Next time someone posits the tired old theory that guitar music is dead, point them in the direction of Blue Rev.