Summer is more than half over, but that doesn’t mean there’s no time to discover a fitting summer soundtrack. For next year maybe. Or to round off this one before autumn and winter set in. Either way, Canadian indie rock band Alvvays will still sound good, even in winter. They hail from colder climes — Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton — and somehow have ended up producing music that feels as bright and garish as an afternoon being blinded by the sand and crusted in salt-water like a boiled shrimp. There’s something strangely pleasant about that, no?
It’s the same way with their self-titled debut album. Though it begins with “Adult Diversion” — an upbeat song with sun-washed, spangly guitars, jangling keys, and a distinct beach-rock feel — the real attention-getter is the second track, “Archie, Marry Me.” Lead vocalist Molly Rankin claims in interviews that the song is meant to be commentary, pulling the stakes out on the institution of marriage and scrutinizing the social emphasis of growing up in your twenties and taking on responsibility in the form of a mortgage and serious job. Within the verses of “Archie, Marry Me,” there’s something wild and uncouth, and therefore wickedly delicious, about the pair of lovers. They go out to “scour the streets for trouble” at night and ridicule marriage and all the trappings that go with it: “Forget the invitations / floral arrangements / and bread-makers.” The song is powerful and carries an aural punch that draws attention to it as the second track. Rather than slowly rising on a swell like the tide, it’s more prone to bowl you over with a wall of sound that has no regard for thresholds.
What might seem like just another sunny, beachy album at first blush turns out to be an impressive piece of work full of unapologetic, strong tracks. “Next of Kin,” “Atop a Cake,” and “Ones Who Love You” showcase the band’s strengths from all angles — from the thrilling quick-tempo soundtrack vibe of “Next of Kin” to the slow-dance, shoegaze elements of “Ones Who Love You.” Mark all these tracks as read because no musical territory goes unexplored here. If there’s a weakness to this self-titled release, it’s that the turned up mix and buried vocals cause the tracks to bleed together somewhat. As background music, Alvvays doesn’t work out as planned. As the soundtrack to your life, turned up loud, it’s capable of carrying that epic quality that everyone is so certain their own life deserves.
This is an album that knows what it is: a mash-up of beach-rock, jangle pop, and shoegaze. Alvvays themselves count bands like Teenage Fanclub and Belle and Sebastian as influences, and it’s audible in their musical structure right down to how their mixes sound—washed out and overexposed like a photograph that’s been too long in the window. The way that Rankin projects her voice is more Belle and Sebastian than what comes from her sonorous family line, with their crystal clear vocals and polished production. Alvvays is rough-edged and jagged. Molly Rankin sings for that style, projecting the image of a wicked school-girl with horn-rimmed glasses who’s about to destroy you with her conniving intellect. Enjoy it. That’s what you do with a girlfriend like that — even if this is actually a band we’re talking about here.