After the oversaturation of indie music in the early 2000s, it takes an artist or group that’s truly up to the challenge to makes waves, leaving most to pale in comparison. Alvvays is a perfect example of a band that’s been pigeonholed and left out to dry; when you first hear their music, it brings hope and happiness with its subdued and calm sonics, but once the initial bliss wears off, it’s pure boredom from then on.
Whether it’s Belle and Sebastian, The Magnetic Fields or PJ Harvey, Alvvays’ formula follows a long tradition of the indie and twee pop before it. Their 2014 self-titled debut was affable and soothing but drowned out by the plethora of other indie releases that year. Trying to gain new ground in their genre, Alvvays’ new sophomore effort Antisocialites turns to be an even more subdued sound, bringing Alvvays into its own and cementing its status as a one-trick pony while falling short of becoming an artist-defining work.
From the start of this LP, it’s obvious Alvvays did not make much of an effort to change their sound. “In Undertow” features all the echoed guitars and simple bass licks most dream pop fans will ever need, and drummer Sheridan Riley’s keeps everything going at a decent pace. When a brief solo kicks in, lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley steps on a pedal to thicken his sound. This basic formula is repeated on a variety of songs, incorporating a few slow moments along the way.
Vocalist Molly Rankin also takes the same approach to this record as the band’s previous, aiming for a dreamy sound to her bittersweet and, more often than not, romantic vocals. Her vocal range might be limited, but her bubbly and ethereal sound shines on songs such as the floating “Plimsoll Punks” and the anthemic “Lollipop (Ode to Jim).” Combined, the instrumentation and vocals blend together, creating a situation where Rankin’s lyrics don’t leave a significant impact. After a couple of listens, her voice becomes just another instrument in the mix.
The much-of-the-same trend continues with Antisocialites overall production. Although the band’s previous producer Chad VanGaalen isn’t returning with this record, O’Hanley teams up with Grammy-winning producer John Congleton to take on all of the production duties of this record. Whereas the drums of the band’s first album were often washed out, Antisocialites finds a bit more clarity on certain songs making the listening experience a bit more enjoyable. Otherwise, it’s standard fare with the mix and engineering for this album.
Typically, albums have standout tracks or particular risks, but any best/worst tracks on this album are purely a matter of taste and how quickly it takes Alvvays to get the listener addicted to their pop hooks. Personally, the aforementioned “Plimsoll Punks” and “Your Type” are two favorites, but your mileage will definitely vary.
Antisocialites suffers from an epidemic many other albums of its time face — it’s a passable record in a competitive landscape. With the ease of releasing albums, artists need to be as original and creative as possible to stand out from the crowd, and Alvvays has yet to accomplish that feat. For momentary bliss, Alvvays is fantastic, but for anything beyond that indie fans will have to look further.
Genre: Indie pop