In the time since Alvvays last released new music, Taylor Swift has put out six albums. It would’ve been seven if they had waited another two weeks. Yet, in light of the band’s string of terribly bad luck involving a break-in, stolen demos and damaged equipment, as well as the ongoing pandemic, their little five-year hiatus makes more sense. But, as with all good things, as soon as you put on those headphones and enter the idyllic dream-like bubble of Alvvays’s latest album, it’s like no time has passed at all. Trust me, it was definitely well worth the wait.
At 14 tracks, Blue Rev is their third and longest album thus far, and yet each track still manages to breeze right by in rapid succession. In all fairness, it could’ve been three hours long, and I still would’ve been sorry to hear it end. Alvvays has an affinity for eccentricity-coated dreamy imagery, set to wistful jangle-pop tunes, as on earlier hits like “Dreams Tonight” and “Archie, Marry Me,” which marked their initial ascension into indie stardom. Blue Rev is no exception, delivering an eclectic mix of deeply contemplative lyrics buoyed by nostalgic tracks and an ever-uncanny knack for the surreal.
In the last eight years, Alvvays have established a unique sound for themselves within the realm of indie-pop, wasting no time diving headfirst into the abyss of this new record. Their mildly nonsensical hooks are effortlessly catchy, as exemplified by the fleeting chorus of “Pharmacist,” echoing “You know it happens all the time / It’s alright.” Like the heightened aesthetic of a Wes Anderson flick, they manage to make even the most mundane of lyrics feel exceptionally compelling and evocative under the glow of their consciously-quirky sound. Such is also the case with the indelible rhythmic pattern of the repeated line, “Say you’ll climb your way out of your wake now” in “After The Earthquake,” which has all the markings of melodic earworm gold. True to its name, “After The Earthquake” features an all-out eruption of sound at its climactic finish, a triumphant symphony of crashing drums and distorted guitars amplified to levels that threaten to drown out the characteristically subdued vocals of lead singer Molly Rankin. This effect is especially magnified by its juxtaposition to the preceding trance-like bridge sung in whispery, hushed confessional tones. The song suddenly explodes back into full force with Rankin pulling us sharply out of her own reverie, scream-singing “Are you awake now?” straight from the eye of the storm. The track is a whirlwind of a listen and a definitive Alvvays classic in the making, all the way from its very first chords to the surging energy of its finale.
“Belinda Says” exists in a similar vein, caught between the upbeat, energetic tempo of its first half and the fantastically forlorn interlude that occurs midway, resembling the lingering trace of a daydream. In slipping in and out of such a “paralyzed paradise,” the song grapples with the terrifying process of establishing one’s independence. “Easy On Your Own?” is propelled by those same reminiscent forces, opening with the lines “I dropped out / College education’s a dull knife / If you don’t believe in the lettered life,” a quintessentially introspective, yet candid Alvvays intro at its finest. A common thread throughout, and far more prominent on this album than ever before, Blue Rev explores the startling absence of someone or something no longer present in our lives, and we’re left with nothing but fondly skewed memories and a tendency to wonder what could’ve been.
As heavy as these topics get, Rankin remains as sardonic as ever, traipsing along with quippy little aphorisms before getting into the real hard-hitting, emotionally devastating material. For instance, just as the title is revealed in the ending verse of “Belinda Says,” “Belinda says that heaven is a place on earth,” Rankin wryly replies, “Well so is hell.” It’s a delicate balance that’s become idiosyncratic to the Alvvays vibe, between the vulnerability of their lyrics, emotionally charged subject matters and an inherently humorous, conversational tone. Some notable new tracks on this record that lean into the absurdity include “Very Online Guy,” a synth-heavy techno satirical bit about “reply guys” on the Internet. Rankin’s distorted, reverberating voice practically drips with insincerity as she vehemently insists that “He’s only one follow, one filter away.” “Velveteen,” asks all of the pertinent questions to pose to an ex like “Who am I to debase? / In this economy? / Is she a perfect ten? / Have you found Christ again?” “Pomeranian Spinster” is like a running list of thoughts towards someone that’s gotten on your absolute last nerve and manages to rhyme its title with “Presbyterian ministers,” which is a feat in and of itself.
As much as Antisocialites was characterized by ice-cream-truck-esque jingles, Blue Rev exudes a parallel domain of nostalgia where synth-based chimes resemble the auditory experience of an arcade, and the start-up sounds of vintage video games tug at some long-forgotten memory in the recesses of your brain. In any other band, it might be too distracting or off-kilter, but with Alvvays, the bizarreness and peculiarities just slip into the threads of their sound. The keys that cascade along the backdrop of “Bored In Bristol,” “Lottery Noises” and “Tile By Tile,” marry perfectly with the melancholic meditations of their lyrics about old feelings and what-ifs being pulled to the forefront of your mind.
With the closing track, “Fourth Figure,” Rankin ruminates on the overarching sentiments of the album, in a deeply heartfelt ode to bygone memories and daydream futures. In its entirety, Blue Rev is a hallmark of the band’s formidable talents, from Rankin’s witty lyrics to those perfectly kooky sound effects. I rarely say this and genuinely mean it, but Blue Rev doesn’t have a single dud on it. A little weird, absurd and vibrant, it’s an emotional rollercoaster of an album from start to finish. Perhaps most importantly, it’s Alvvays to a tee, picking up like they never left off.
Daily Arts Writer Serena Irani can be reached at email@example.com.