Rather than the barbed wire harshness applied to early noise pop, the “beautiful layer of crud” on Alvvays’ “dark, sugary songs” is smooth and warm, like a river that has buffeted a stone for decades and polished off its edges. Similarly, while the “pop” part of the equation in this genre has been traditionally filled by saccharine, simplistic melodies and straightforward, monosyllabic lyrics, the songs themselves on this album are deceptively complex, full of sophisticated and affecting melodic turns, along with clever lyrics that demonstrate songwriter Molly Rankin’s debt to Magnetic Fields leader Stephin Merritt.
Alvvays leads off with two consecutive singles, making the strongest possible case for the band in its first few minutes. Opener “Adult Diversion” is the more upbeat of the two, gliding effortlessly from hook to hook on a bed of twinkling guitar leads, vocal harmonies and rolling drums. “Archie, Marry Me” is next and undoubtedly the best song on the album. Slowing down the tempo considerably, Rankin pairs a dizzyingly gorgeous melody with typically deadpan lyrics, mixing romantic abandon with slightly detached humor that only elevates the poignancy.
It’s hard to live up to that opening duo, but the rest of the album contains myriad highlights as well. The band’s sound is so clearly defined and carefully constructed, that when new developments are introduced, however small, they hit with disproportionate impact. The guitars and Farfisa organ on “Party Police” are so heavily reverbed that they begin to resemble orchestral strings, lending the song an unexpected grandeur as it crescendos and falls away into an indelible refrain. The Farfisa returns again on “Dives”, this time accompanied by a rickety, ticking drum machine, and a lighter, bass-free texture. It’s not one of the stronger songs on the album, but its inclusion provides a welcome respite, a breather before the album’s conclusion. Closing song “Red Planet” is perhaps the album’s biggest sonic standout, built atop synthesizer swells, a submerged pulse, and not much else. It’s the most exposed the band has ever sounded, an elliptical and intriguing end to the album.
Alvvays is not a game-changing record, and it does not purport to invent a new genre or radically reorient its constellation of influences. Instead, it presents a young band that is assured, confident and focused, bursting with the kind of excellent songs that so often elude others working in similar territory. It is rare for a new band to be so fully in command of its sound, with such a clear understanding of their strengths, and this album is a near-perfect encapsulation of what makes Alvvays great.