Alvvays - Blue Rev (Transgressive) 1

Alvvays – Blue Rev (Transgressive)

There’s an abundance of worn-out clichés to fall back on when something or someone has taken too long to produce. We’re often told that waiting will make it all the more worthwhile – especially in advertising – and that patience is the key. By contrast, the world moves fast in the digital age and perhaps out of sight really is out of mind. It’s a problem that Alvvays have had to wrestle with given that Blue Rev is their first full length release in over five years. The follow up to 2017’s Antisocialite has taken much longer than the band thought to materialise after a combination of events seemed to conspire against them.

On the back of the last album, the band toured much more extensively than they had previously entertained and this led to an obvious case of the post album/tour blues. Having not found the inspiration to write on the road, the band just weren’t ready for album number three by this point. Just when the restrictions of the pandemic seemed to end, so did chances of the album coming together sooner rather than later. Singer Molly Rankin had her apartment broken into and an array of demos stolen, just one day before a basement flood nearly destroyed the band’s gear. A new rhythm section comprising of drummer Sheridan Riley and bassist Abbey Blackwell, also struggled to traverse border closures, meaning the band found the songs evolving at a slower rate.

Due a change of luck, Alvvays turned to celebrated producer and fellow Canadian Shawn Everett to navigate the sessions which would ultimately shape the album. Everett had recently taken control of well-received efforts by The War on Drugs and Kacey Musgraves; his approach not only forced them out of their comfort zones but inspired a nuanced change of direction. Used to fastidiously demoing tracks and making maps of new songs like an obsessive detective trying to crack the case, Everett urged the band to rip up their own rule book and embrace a live and more spotaneous approach.

For the most part, this approach has the desired effect of adding to Alvvays’ cannon of swooning indie pop, whilst allowing the band to experiment with their formulaic template. Opener ‘Pharmacist’ sounds as if it might be right out of the earnest Alvvays playbook, but has a more aggressive element that surfaced during the live recordings. A swirling guitar sound that buzzes like it emanated from Kevin Shields’ effects pedals, grabs hold of the track and shifts the focus.

After The Earthquake’ is ushered in with a guitar tone straight off a C86 compilation, before being thrust into life with a vibrant rhythm section prominent. ‘Tom Verlaine’ is held together by Rankin’s delicate vocals, that could easily be a haunting interlude on an episode of ‘Twin Peaks’ . She has the vocal range that sounds spectacular washed in reverb and the band repeat that trick several times – most promintently on their playful attack on anonymous inappropriate internet behaviour on ‘Very Online Guy’.

The album however, doesn’t always get the balance right and at 14 tracks, is perhaps a sign that the quality control could have been a bit more stringent at points. ‘Tile by Tile’ struggles to find the enthusiam of previous tracks, only bursting into life in the final throes, but with a weaker pay-off than it’s possible to get used to earlier in the record. ‘Velveteen’ seems like a wasted opportunity with Rankin’s vocals moving into Karen O territory and a beauitful guitar lick making way for a rather placid attempt at bridging the gap between The Cure’s poppier singles and the other worldy sound of Warpaint.

But there is plenty left in the tank to get excited about in the final moments of Blue Rev, that prove how adept Alvvays have become at their craft. ‘Pomeranian Spinster’ is a sprawling rocker that comes straight out of the blocks and proves that they can take the volume up a notch if required. The subdued keyboards from Kerri MacLellan that herald the arrival of ‘Belinda Says’ creates a beautifully subtle track with perhaps the strongest lyrics on the album and links to its title with Rankin opining:

“Paradise and I find myself paralyzed/Knowing all too well/Blue Rev behind the rink/I didn’t really need it/Circumspect when you call collect.”

When there is such a long gap between albums, bands often find it difficult to replicate the success they may have once attained. It seemed like Alvvays’ chance to progress from cult underground big fish to much bigger waters may have gone in the intervening years, but at least this body of work provides a timely reminder of their melodic strengths, lyrical dexterity and their new found capability to embrace more sonic possibilities. Blue Rev may not be the album to progress their careers, but it may just be a gateway to an altogether more interesting phase.

Alvvays - Blue Rev (Transgressive) 1

Reader Rating0 Votes

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.