Through nostalgic, lo-fi dream pop and insanely clever lyrical wit, Alvvays’s self-titled debut album mostly explored the many details and nuances of a two-person relationship, touching on the serious as well as the more jocund. Though built on an aggressive and striking foundation, the debut still evoked the sun-drenched, bubbly mood of retro pop, as well as included unique instrumental flourishes to add moments of delicacy, the amalgamation of its contrasting tones of hard and soft being Molly Rankin’s breathy, and at times, beautifully dreary vocals. Following their signature style of hiding dark, visceral lyrics under the facade of bright, shimmering instrumentals, Alvvays’s sophomore album Antisocialites doesn’t stray too far from the path they’ve paved, but does change its lyrical tone. Mostly gone are the narratives that touch on dependence on another’s touch; instead, the Toronto four-piece explores the ideas of separation and escapism, at the same time fleshing out their jangly, colorful sound, resulting in a saccharine sweet, yet remarkably tenacious collection of tracks without the sugar crash.
The 60’s are still very much alive within Alvvays’s music, but the way in which they alter its components to fit their particular aesthetic almost seems like a parody on the genre itself; the fact that such somber topics lurk underneath shiny, bright instrumentals (see: the drowning of a loved one in the peppy tune “Next Of Kin” on Alvvays) is a brilliant reconstruction of a period of time where the music always seemed just a little too happy. Regardless, the ways in which they do evoke the style are wonderful – Kerri MacLellan’s fuzzy day-glo piano that introduces opener “In Undertow” beautifully swells and grows to provide ample room for Rankin’s velvet smooth voice and accompanying bass line to grab you by the shoulders and pull you into their world. The almost eerie doo-wop of “Not My Baby” house murky instrumentals and Rankin’s sinuous vocals weave around them, the flourishes of synth shimmering just underneath the surface, the bridge evoking a glimmering, refulgent light hovering under a pellucid body of water. “Plimsoll Punks” is more upbeat, cut up into equal moments of unrest and clarity, rebelliousness and frustration. Apparently, the track is about Rankin’s frustrations with being in the public eye and resisting the idea of authenticity in music, leading to the idea that we’re all just “punks” underneath our civilized disguises.
The most wonderful aspect of Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley’s lyrical narratives is the fact that they feel lost in time – they’re relatable to almost anyone, regardless of generation. Even though they have the tendency to occasionally reference items and ideas that irrevocably belong in the past (“Archie, Marry Me”’s mention of breadmakers, for instance), the seamless way it sits within the rest of the track only adds to their immense lyrical charm, which is even more pronounced in Antisocialites. “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” reverts back to the the atmosphere of pinstriped, sherbet serving dance parlors of the 60’s, is one of the most effervescent, Rankin seemingly interrupting her own ebullient tone in her mile-a-minute vocals. “In Undertow” has Rankin exploring the feelings of doubt and insecurity in a relationship, but without really caring if they resolve it or not – the fact that she asks him “rhetorically” if they can be saved as well as the repeated epiphany of “there’s no turning back” during the chorus and the breakdown points to a woman that wishes to explore isolation for a while. “Dreams Tonite” is the experience of seeing someone you once thought you knew perfectly in a completely different light, its hazy, delicate tone making it one of the most earnest, unpretentious tracks in Alvvays’s career. “Not My Baby” provides a moment of epiphany for Rankin, where she explains that she “traded [her] rose colored shades for a wide lens,” focusing on more realistic ideas that include retreating back into her own subconscious instead of voicing her thoughts aloud in the past.
It’s true that Rankin spends more time emphasizing the feelings of separation, escapism, and isolation in this album – seemingly in that exact order – but the last two tracks gradually introduce another character, close to Alvvays’s infamous marriage-hating, alimony fearing “Archie.” in “Saved By A Waif,” Rankin criticizes a faceless “Adrian” among surf guitar and bombastic drums, claiming he “wanted to get it together” but doesn’t, and has no plans to do so in the future. And Rankin won’t wait for him either, apparently. However, it’s clear that Rankin still has a soft spot for whoever it was she was trying to cast aside for ninety percent of the album, because closer “Forget About Life” has her inviting him back to forget about their troubles for a while “under this flickering light,” going back to the youthful excursions introduced in the debut – images of sitting alone with someone that knew you well, drinking awful wine and talking deep into the night, but you can’t help feeling that the relationship that once was has since dwindled, resulting in a bittersweet, nostalgic tone that feels agonizingly tangible for those that can relate all too well.
If Alvvays‘s pragmatic, yet still carefree approach was made up of primary colors, the softness of everything in Antisocialites point to something more pastel in appearance – but don’t attribute the candy like color palette to something without substance; despite its initial sugary sensation, its earnest, unyielding aftertaste houses something fervid and tireless, something that can only continue to grow in strength as Alvvays continues to enhance their unique, unparalleled sound.
photo by Arden Wray