Sunday, December 14, 2014

Alvvays, by Alvvays (Album of the Week)

You can’t dislike Alvvays.  You can ignore them if you like, but the fun, catchy pop found on this debut album is simply appealing.  If you don’t like Alvvays, there’s something wrong with you.

This album sounds like something from the past.  Other reviewers point to C86 and early REM.  I had to spend a little time on Wikipedia to find out what C86 was, and it turns out to be a cassette tape released by the British music magazine New Musical Express (NME) in 1986.  The cassette is credited with promoting “a guitar-based musical genre characterized by jangling guitars and melodic power pop song structures.”  If you already knew that, you’re hipper than I am.  If not, then I’ve made you marginally more hip, which, when you consider the source, must be mighty depressing.

Fortunately, this album is an upbeat antidote to that kind of brooding.  To me, it has a mid-70s sound with tambourines, electric guitars and a girlish voice.  On first listen, it reminds me of the Cowsills, the Partridge Family and, perhaps inspired by the second song on the album, the Archies.  This is pre-grunge, sparkling pure pop.

That second song, “Archie, Marry Me” is the centerpiece of the album.  Clever, catchy, self-confident and just a tiny bit edgy, it defines the approach taken by Alvvays throughout the album.  It includes sonic references to the early-70s pop world beyond the name “Archie” – including a few “Hey, hey’s” that you will likely follow with “Paula”, if you recall the old song.

But this is not just a sweet homage to pop songs of the past.  It’s hard to describe, but there is a bit of an edge to lead-singer’s Molly Rankin’s voice – a maturity that makes you take these sugar-dipped songs just a bit more seriously.  “The Agency Group” moves a bit past adoring toward stalking.  “Next of Kin” makes an accidental drowning sound like a fun surf song.

As I said at the beginning, you can’t dislike Alvvays, but it’s hard to imagine truly loving this album.  It’s a glossy surface with a few hints that there could be some really great stuff coming.  In this, their first album, Alvvays has set up a great, pretty sound, but they haven’t put much grit or soul into it.  I’m hopeful that the next album will be a bit less pretty and a lot more interesting.

Robin came up with a good description of how it feels to listen to this album: "The whole album is like peeking in a girl's diary.  Lot's of wistfully trying to figure out what is going on in the boy's head, wanting it to last, wanting it to start."

Next Up:  Things are going to be busy in the Ryan household for the rest of the year, so our next entry will be a ranking of what we've loved listening to this year.  

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