Album Score: 14/15
This gets me into a starry-eyed daze whenever I listen to it. I suppose that mean this has become one of my favorite albums ever. This album seems to be mainly characterized by its rich, dense jangle-pop atmospheres. They are nice to listen to, but they're not necessarily pretty, as there seems to be quite a solemn undercurrent to it all. Lead singer Molly Rankin has a deadpan delivery, a sound which is also one of this band's characteristic hallmarks. Good thing her voice has the sort of timber that can cut through these dense atmospheres like a warm knife through soft butter.
This is a fantastic debut, by the way, one of the best I've ever heard. Alvvays (pronounced “Always”) is a five-piece band that hails from Eastern Canada. (This is what the region of the world has done to make up for that Justin Bieber mess.) They released this album in 2014 to almost immediate acclaim. The song that got the most attention was “Archie, Marry Me,” which has a melody that I haven't been able to shake out of my mind since I first heard it—and it isn't going away anytime soon.
These guys—at this point anyway—don't experiment much with instrumentation or sound production. My guess would be, they developed this material in a garage and, when they went to the recording studio, didn't change the sound at all. They could have played this entire album live for all I can tell. The guitar tones don't really change, there aren't any post-production embellishments done to the vocals... even the settings on the keyboard remain constant, which is always a heavy, Mellotron-ish drone. Usually the drums are live, but a few songs use a drum machine. And even the drum machine I imagine coming from a box sitting in a garage. ...Of course, I am glad they didn't try to load this album with post-production tricks. When it comes to albums like this, charm is everything, and what is more charming than songs that sound like they were born out of a garage?
There was the funny thing about listening to this album about 100 times over the last year or so. The more I got into it, different songs started to pop out at me. The accessible melody of “Archie, Marry Me” was the thing I latched onto immediately. A few listens later I really started to like “Atop a Cake,” which starts out with an evocative, jangly guitar before—rather surprisingly—a danceable rhythm pipes up.
Then I started noticing other songs, particularly “Ones Who Love You,” which is a little more down-low and Rankin sings with a haunting coo. I can't really pick a favorite song here, but “Next of Kin” had earned that title at one time--maybe around my 25th listen. That's a rare sort of song, a bittersweet thing that actually makes me feel nostalgic about someone else's memory. Aren't these out-of-body experiences what art is supposed to do?
What's prompting me to give this album such a high rating is simply that I keep listening to it, and it still gives me surprises. Almost all of the melodies here are loaded continuously with twists with beautiful surprises at almost every corner. Like how the chorus of "One Who Loves You" seems to just come out of nowhere, or that chilling middle-eight section in "Party Police." There is so much to talk about here! These songs are generally quite short, but they are so densely layered and fascinating to listen to, I wonder how on earth could they be so short? Do you know who also wrote pop music like this? ...The Beatles.
Somehow, Alvvays are going to continue on as a band and going to continue to release albums, and I somehow doubt they're going to be able to match this debut, much less top it. But something tells me everything they do here on out is going to be great, and I'm looking forward to a lifetime of hotly anticipating every release.
Read the track reviews here!