Alvvays Antisocialites

[Polyvinyl; 2017]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie rock, dream pop
Others: Ariel Pink, Angel Olsen, Girlpool

Their first one was the guitar album, the record that compounded Best Coast reverb with the verve of forgotten noisemakers Vivian Girls and the sloppy vulnerability of forsaken jangle-poppers The Replacements. Alvvays established the band as the latest in a long lineage of indie rock acts that understand the fleeting nature of the pop hook, but yield to it all the same. Singles like “Next of Kin” proved that Buffalo Springfield guitar work and Feelies chord progressions are an inspired combination. “Archie, Marry Me” reiterated that love songs sound more sincere when the addressee has a name. Although they arrived long après la lettre, Alvvays aligned themselves with some of indie pop’s most notable vanguards on that eponymous record.

But here on Antisocialites, in which the Ontarian dream-punks return for a second offering of the melody-conscious, vapor-bathed flights of fancy that garnered the group’s initial wave of online buzz, the guitars don’t behave so wantonly, nor are they as pronounced. Favoring less obtrusive arrangements wherein Molly Rankin’s and Alec O’Hanley’s co-dependent arpeggiation serves more as filigree than foundation, the band proffer a synth-heavier collection of songs that, while catchier and more self-aware, apostatize from the sun-faded guitar sound that buttressed Alvvays.

Cleaner though their sound may be, Alvvays refrain from compromising the sui generis worldview that informed the lyrics of Alvvays. Antisocialites engenders a world of misfit romantics whose understanding of destiny involves meeting their soulmates in chance encounters on the streets (“If I saw you on the street, would I have you in my dreams tonight?”). A world in which one’s blood type can preclude his or her compatibility with others (“Your Type”). A world in which Jim Reid can be an honest-to-god rock star, for Christ’s sake! But in spite of these indulgences in quaint fantasy, Rankin’s lyrics remain grounded by insight as she explores deteriorating relationships with deft demotics and a maturing sense of introspection.

Antisocialites may not be a manifest step forward for Alvvays. Quieter than its predecessor on many of the songs, the album sacrifices immediacy for Rankin’s occasionally mawkish but otherwise astute poetics. But the tradeoff is worth it, as Rankin, while reporting on failed romances from a firsthand perspective, arrives at the question we’d all benefit from asking ourselves: “When you get old and faded out, will you want your friends?”

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