Polyvinyl Records, 2014
In the beginning, back in the old country (Canada), in Cape Breton, two friends were determined to make music and get out of the stifling hamlet they were in. Molly Rankin and Kerri MacLellan grew up as next door neighbors, doodling with musical tidbits as youngsters: “fiddling about” with folk music and other native music. Soon came a breakthrough: they were exposed to paisley, neo-psychedelic, “alt-pop” bands such as The Smiths, Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements, The Charlatans (UK), maybe Inspiral Carpets, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and more.
Simultaneously, on a different part of the country, Prince Edward Island, a trio of lads, Alec O’Hanley, Brian Murphy and Philip MacIsaac were on a musical mission of their own, not unlike BFFs, Molly and Kerri.
As it’s wont to do, “fate” intervened and brought this gang of multi-gendered kids with dreams of music-making and playing, onstage, to adoring crowds, together and the result was Alvvays. They met up in Toronto and ever since these wily cats have been making lovely music.On : “Tungsten-tinted pop that glitters like sea glass.” And tungsten is more than just a hard, rare metal under standard conditions when uncombined. Though its melting point is the highest of all the elements, 20 times denser than water, comparable to uranium and gold and about 1.7 higher than lead, for which it is used as a substitute in ammunition these days. Tungsten, with minor amounts of impurities, can be both brittle and hard, making it hard to work with. But, pure tungsten is quite hard, more ductile and it can be cut with a hacksaw! Tungsten’s many alloys can be seen in light bulb filaments, x-ray tubes and as electrodes in TIG welding.
Quite an accomplishment for a simple, country element. The comparison are stunning when it comes to Alvvays!
Their latest, self-titled album starts out with “Adult Diversion”, a great, lively, dancing tune. There is no pretense to Alvvays. Their jangly guitars adorn their music like shiny tinsel on an Xmas tree.
The album starts out with “Adult Diversion”, a dancehall classic, in perfect rhythm and a verve that’s hard to ignore.
The beats are perfectly suited to a rock ‘n’ roll band: bombastic, perfectly-kept-time. The rock-steady drumming keeps it all rolling along with a rhythm that is nearly irresistible, a great anchor for their fabulous high-velocity tunes. The second song, “Archie, Marry Me”, which, I figured was a love song, a paean to that king of comics, Archie, of Archie Comics. Remember the recurring dilemma, throughout the comic’s life? He was torn between two lovers: Veronica, that conniving minx, who always sought to move the other one, Betty, aside, so as to have the Arch to herself. Then there was Betty, the beautiful, blonde, innocent girl, that seemed like such a nice girl. Not to say that Veronica was all bad. She, herself, had beauty – a dark-haired, exotic flair which aroused the spontaneous, wild side of Archie.
But, for all the girls’ machinations, it was Archie, in the end, who could never quite make up his mind. For, to pick one would be consigning the other to the “rejection” pile and we all know the saw about “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…” Usually it is just that – an old saw, a wives’ tale, a silly saying, but now and then it does have a bit of resonance and in the comics, remember, anything can happen! Good ol’ Arch, may have had a good reason for not choosing, for the indecisiveness.
The next tune, “The One Who Loves You” seems like a continuation of “Archie, Marry Me”, with a similar sentiment. “Next of Kin” the one following, is another upbeat, danceable jingle-jangle tune, with this kind of Hawaiian guitar picking sound, a kind of wooden “ker-pick”, “ker-pick”, but still retaining the jangliness of the first song. There is also a second guitar which plays a kind of surf guitar sound.
There’s something almost timeless about this. I like it a lot – it’s not a dreary, angst-filled, long suicide note. It’s no “Goodbye Cruel World”, or solipsistic rant showing dark-souled, unfulfilled losers. No, Alvvays, is an upbeat album that is harder to come by in this age of poseurs and so much phony anger and faux angst.
When you get to “Party Police”, Alvvays slows things down a bit, like a great party that’s going fine until the cops come and bust it up, forcing the partiers to have to meet up in the park or over at Steve’s house. In other words, they’re making the best out of bad situations, which is more of what “Party Police” refers to (it’s not really about a squad of buzz-killing baddies). It’s actually got deeper meanings to it than that. I interpreted it as a song about those people in one’s life who seem to live to shoot you down, or wreck your mood, shine a light on your faults and so on, but, the moral is that, in the face of such adversity, you have a party and forget about your troubles, if only for a night.
The next song, “The Agency Group” also keeps the more moody, slowed down vibe alive. I’m no psychologist, but I’m thinking, maybe Alvvays is a dichotomy of sorts, in that, the first half of the album is a bouncy, carefree romp, the second half, is a thinking-dancer’s meditation on how to not hate the world because you’re boyfriend dumped you or because you threw up in the punch bowl at the prom.
Besides being a slower part of the album, the songs are still great. And one can’t expect (or want!) any particular album, sans a concept album and even then… to be a set of 10 songs that are basically variations on the same tune. “Dives” is a ballad that has a dreamy, lush tone to it. What I’m getting at is that to be remembered and respected (more), you can’t just make albums where all the songs sound the same. That is a sure ticket to musical oblivion. You need a variety of sounds, styles and subjects. You know the old saying “Man cannot live by bread alone”, well, it’s the same with music: people can’t live by cute pop alone, they need a smart selection of well placed, intelligent songs and not just willy-nilly, rather songs which reach out to the listener and be interpretable, so that they can be heard by a particular person and he or she can listen to it and think to themselves: “Gee, that song…they’re singing about my life.” “That is my love life,” or, “that’s my boss that they’re making fun of.”
The penultimate song, “Atop a Cake”, picks things up a little, a ringing number that gets you up, dancing again and in a musical, metaphorical sort of way, tells you: “see, things aren’t as black and ominous as they seem – things go in cycles and this too will pass, you’ll see!” Then the finale, “Red Planet” is an aptly named song – a dreamy closer that, instead of leaving you hanging where you are, takes you out to space and shows you how meek and small the earth really is and how banal and meaningless your problems and other people’s problems are. It ends by leaving you atop your perch in space (also metaphorically – you can’t sit atop a perch in space, especially without a protective suit or you’d explode and your blood would waft through space like a red roller rink, amidst gruesome body parts). But seriously, “Red Planet” is a great tune to end on, after all the joy and dancing and the creative thinking you engage in, mid-way through, you get to focus on the big picture.
This is a great album, seriously. Go to http://www.polyvinylrecords.com to see more information on it! -KM.