In 2015, Wolf Alice burst onto the British alt-rock stage with their first album, My Love Is Cool. With tracks like “Bros” and “You’re a Germ,” the four-member band effortlessly blended acoustic riffs and melodious vocals with pounding bass and grating yells. A delirious explosion of sound, My Love Is Cool is flighty; it jumps from speakers with vitality, spinning into a kaleidoscope of emotion and never lingering too long in one place.
Wolf Alice’s latest release, Visions of a Life, introduces nothing new but rather expands on their debut’s unpredictability. The album’s songs are like full-color illustrations of different moments in a person’s life. A scattered collection of photos faintly bound together by the barest glimmer of thread, what they lack in cohesivity, they make up for in expressiveness.
The initial track, “Heavenward,” begins in a hazy nebula of ambient synth; grey matter that transforms into a rhythmic instrumental background that rises and falls under the line of lead singer Ellie Rowsell’s voice. The echo of her vocals are almost lost in translation: a nearly indiscernible chorus of “Go heavenward / As all Earth’s angels should” unravels the edges of the song. Frayed and obscure, “Heavenward” sits at the edge of consciousness — a half-forgotten memory.
In contrast, the succeeding track, “Yuk Foo,” seems to come from an entirely different band altogether, one that doesn’t give a “shit, shit, shit.” Rowsell’s aggressive screams backed by a raucous medley of punk rock anger gives the middle finger to the modest “Heavenward.” As “You bore me to death, well deplore me / No, I don’t give a shit” scratches nails down the chalkboard of prepubescent angst, Visions of a Life jolts from one sentiment to another. With little to no warning, a metamorphosis occurs: whimsical experimentation into belligerent rage.
Open up the fucking pit, Wolf Alice.
The last lingering clamor of “Yuk Foo” mellows into “Beautifully Unconventional,” and Visions of a Life takes another turn, this time into a more relaxed, slightly pop-infused composition. The muted simplicity of background harmonies calls attention to the bounce in Rowsell’s delivery of “Hannah! She lives! She breathes! / She’s beautifully unconventional.” Breezy and unaffected, this song is less substantial than “Yuk Foo” but more approachable: superficially catchy.
The rest of the album continues to leapfrog in the same erratic manner. Breathy, half-finished speculations stand next to relentless tempos that oddly cut into the acoustic pluck of “After the Zero Hour:” Wolf Alice manages to fit a lot into twelve tracks.
Although the songs rarely falter in delivering originality, each arrangement distinctive and multifaceted, the discombobulated complexity can oftentimes become overpowering.
The various components of Visions of a Life seem to stand independent of each other; a spilled jigsaw puzzle with mismatched pieces, it’s hard to see the overall picture with songs that just don’t fit together.
It is almost impossible to form the flurry of contrasting sound, clashing harmonies and jarring juxtapositions into sequences that are easier to follow.
After all, in choosing to focus mostly on individual track development rather than establishing an overall coherent flow, Wolf Alice creates a labyrinth: A cacophony of disconnected personal exclamations that can be easy to get lost in.
But even so, this isn’t an album that is meant to lock neatly together.
Within the disarray, each song becomes an abstract mosaic of Wolf Alice’s distant memories; a chromatic jumble that transforms Visions of a Life into a poignant exploration of human emotion.