by Ari Roth
Alvvays make music infused with the kind of starry-eyed, fleeting wistfulness that is forever linked to the experience of being a teenager and feeling as if they world is unfolding before you for the first time. Although their lyrics cover a wider range of subjects (“being stuck on an island in a farmhouse in January in the middle of nowhere, turning 25 and serving hot turkey sandwiches at a pub for too long, getting doused in pepper spray”), their sonic and melodic sensibility remains focused on these small, sadness-twinged epiphanies at the core of so much great pop music.
This was what struck me most upon first hearing “Archie, Marry Me,” the second single and second track on their new, self-titled debut album, which comes out on July 22nd. It seems as if songwriter, guitarist and vocalist, Molly Rankin, agrees with that observation.
“There is a sense of pining on the record and not just in respect to love, but for the simplicity of being a teen and those pivotal moments,” she says.
This quality is also enforced by the patina of tape hiss and reverb that is all over the album, what Rankin describes as “a beautiful layer of crud all over our dark, sugary songs.” Without necessarily coming off as retro, the band is certainly tapping into some aspects of the past.
Rankin says, “we dig old stuff, and if any of that has seeped into our sound, then great. It’s fun to go back and find all of the stuff you missed out on because a) you grew up without a record store in your town, and b) you were born in 1987.”
In particular, Rankin points to the Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis as bands that later led them to the seminal (and recently reissued) indie-pop C86 tape and bands like the Pastels and Primal Scream. As a songwriter, she has expressed admiration for Magnetic Fields leader Stephin Merritt, whose humor and attention to songcraft is certainly present in her style. When asked for more influences, she cites the holy trinity of indie rock downer geniuses:
“Mr. Morrissey, Mr. [Stuart] Murdoch [of Belle & Sebastian], and Mr. [Stephen] Malkmus [of Pavement],” while also leaving room for some pure, unabashed pop, ending her list with an enthusiastic “ABBA!”
Growing up in somewhat isolated Cape Breton, and coming from a Scottish-Canadian folk music background before discovering all of this classic music, Rankin was already writing her own songs, and she tells me that “I wrote a lot of terrible songs in my high school/freshman era before finding other music. My first song at fifteen was called ‘No Sense At All’ which was a country ballad about not understanding the function of romance. I thought it was dynamite,” she deadpans.
Although this is the first full-length album from the band, who are comprised of Rankin, along with Philip MacIsaac, Kerri MacLellan and Brian Murphy, they have toured and played shows over the past few years since the project’s inception in 2010. Rankin says that the album is meant to accurately represent the sound that they have developed live, assuring fans that “we had no hopes of transforming the songs into obtuse math rock or stadium radio hits.”
Sure enough, the album keeps things relatively simple, capturing the band’s sound and presenting a set of great songs in the best possible light without interfering with their essence, which Rankin describes as “wistful, reckless, subdued, abrasive.” Even with the new album promising to bring Alvvays to a far wider audience than ever before, live shows are still clearly the core of the band.
Rankin tells me, “we work our butts off during the week so we can travel and get on stage and enjoy ourselves. The more we remember to do that, the more receptive the crowds usually are.” Attendees of the band’s upcoming shows may also get a chance to hear new, unrecorded and unreleased material that might hint at the band’s next album, which Rankin says “will be louder, clearer, with more songs to wiggle to.”
Their debut album, which is now streaming on NPR, is both promising and fully realized, a pure and potent indie pop gem that goes by in a flash. I can’t wait for the next one.