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Alvvays - Antisocialites (Polyvinyl Records)

Alvvays - Antisocialites
13 September 2017

When artists pen albums chock full of breakup songs and similar fare to extreme volume and dramatic effect, listeners are quick to accuse them of creative provinciality. Gosh knows everyone from Taylor Swift to Mark Kozelek has had their work poked fun at or placed on the chopping block for such recurring themes. Alvvays’s Molly Rankin earns a special place in the annals of the songwriting pantheon for her ability to espouse the pervasive format. She never reads as scorned, nor does she as arrogant from having gained an upper hand following a relationship’s dissolution. She’s dedicated to a universal peace that can only be achieved if a few hearts are broken in the process — only that they may harken to their true calling later, of course.

So when she laments in the whimsical chorus of “Your Type” about dying on the inside when caught in the presence of a potential suitor, it’s not told with a simultaneous eye roll; it’s meant to be taken in light jest as a cautionary tale. Rarely does anyone recommend a breakup for its own good so splendidly. Alvvays support romantic instincts, and in doing so, make it fun to be picky.

Thank goodness for Chad VanGaalen’s early investment in the band via his role as producer on the last record, gifting/assisting them with the inescapable lo-fi orgiastic-reverb sound for which they’ve now become associated. For instance, the string section in their most beauteous to-date offering “Not My Baby” works in spite of the fidelity, or lack thereof, cutting its grandeur in half. The debut’s problem, however, lies in its front-loaded structure. Past its first three gems, there’s not much worth writing home about. It’s laudatory pop technique (“Train in Vain,” anyone?) to include such a rousing number as “Saved By a Waif” so late into Antisocialites’ track listing, and there’s an according strength this time around that doesn’t burn out so soon, spiked by rich, full compositions along the way. “Dreams Tonite” moves at its own sweet pace; a tempo reserved for a self-assured pop standard. Rankin accomplishes one of those rare kismet slant rhymes in the lyric, “Your face was supposed to be hanging over me/Like a rosary.” It’s almost too on the nose of a slant, but the imagery of a broken intimate faith is too well-tailored to do without.

That final high note Rankin hits on “In Undertow” scintillates; you can see shades of the similarly pitch-increased pleasant surprise that makes “Ones Who Love You” so great from the first LP. She exercises those dulcet pipes more confidently on this effort in other songs such as “Plimsoll Punks” (“I can barely breeeathe”) and “Hey” (“Over nowwww…”). On the self-titled record, Rankin’s voice was inarguably pitch perfect but laid back; pretty but noticeably shy. Her devotion on this entry isn’t averse to flexing — she’s embracing the fact that she’s a cemented pop singer while keeping grounded sensibility, backed by collaborators who’ve taken orchestral pages from obvious-though-mandatory influences like The Cars, The Bangles, and The Go-Go’s. Like the key change during the final lap of “Your Type,” Alvvays have raised the stakes, brushing up on the handbook of pop and making the competent, forward-thinking, deceptively saccharine album they’ve been studying for.

You may purchase the record here.