Review Summary: There's no turning back after what's transpired.
Heading into their sophomore release Antisocialites
, Alvvays find themselves searching for an identity that helps them stand out from the general indie pop scene. Not that their self-titled debut record flopped, mind you; au contraire
, it fits quite snugly in the wash of jangle pop records that have overtaken a large sect of indie pop over the past few years. The issue is that it fits so snugly the album’s personality is almost completely stripped as a result. The production, the vocals, the song structures; all of the album’s various traits seem to fall in the “okay”-to-”pretty good” range without anything standing out as particularly “significant” or “worthy of notoriety”. Luckily for them, Alvvays seem to be as conscious of this as anyone else, and for Antisocialites
the band seeks to set themselves apart from the crowd, if only a little bit.
This push towards individuality comes in the form of incorporating elements from dream pop and shoegaze into the band’s sound. The overall drive and character of the instrumentals from the debut is still largely retained, but there’s an additional shimmer to everything, as synths pop in to accompany the tracks in whatever way is necessary, whether it be in a featured role, as ornamentations or as a general backdrop to everything else. Alvvays generally don’t let these normally lighter sounds define the material, however, as the production stays relatively subdued and devoid of brightness. Perhaps this is the band’s way of trying to prevent themselves from venturing too far into the realms of synthpop, a genre known for its ear-catchingly bright sounds and a (fair or unfair, depending on who you ask) stereotype of immaturity.
That being said, if Alvvays is indeed attempting to make a statement of maturity here, it’s not a statement I can entirely buy. The songwriting has not advanced particularly far from the debut, the primary difference being that the added element of synths gives the material some sonic variety the debut didn’t have. Indeed, it’s the tracks with the densest productions that shine the most, for they provide a better cloak to shield the relatively derivative nature of the songwriting. There are occasional moments of intrigue in the general vibe of this album, such as the dissonant beeps and other assorted sound effects on “Already Gone” and the prominently discordant guitar that pops in once or twice on the track “Saved by a Waif”, but these moments are extremely few and far between.
The vocals are another point where Antisocialites
is somewhat lackluster. Molly Rankin, while perennially palatable, has little to offer except her reasonably pleasing tone, and even that is drowned out half the time by how far back her vocals are in the mix, often having to fight with the reverb-laden guitars and drums for prominence. In their attempts to create a less “cheesy” sound than their synth-heavy contemporaries, Alvvays more often than not end up with a mix where everything kind of mushes together with no real distinction, no “pop” to it. This works in some cases, such as the standout opening track “In Undertow” (as close to true synthpop as they come on here), but more often than not it just reinforces the “lack of standout characteristics” argument.
While they have given themselves more of an identity than they had prior to this record, Alvvays still haven’t really made a case for them being any sort of a standout in the land of indie pop. Yet again, I came away from this record with the perception that they’re more in the upper echelon of second-tier bands from the genre than anywhere close to the first tier. But I can't discredit Antisocialites
too much for that. What Alvvays have going for them is a sound that is unabashedly pleasant; the tracks here don’t grate on the ears by being too bright or obtrusive, they merely pass by in an inoffensive (and usually reasonably enjoyable) fashion. And the change of sound for this album combined with the select few brief moments of experimentation suggest that they have stronger, somewhat more ambitious albums in them. Whether or not those albums will ever be made is merely a matter of whether they have the desire to become more creative with their sound or not. And if they choose to just play it safe and make more records like this, the results are too damn pleasant for me to complain much about them.