It seems only fitting that one of the tracks on Blue Rev, the third album by Toronto dream pop heavyweights Alvvays, takes its title from Tom Verlaine, iconic guitarist behind the legendary New York art punk group Television. Alvvays have never borne a direct resemblance to those Class of ’77 greats, if in large part because you can fit about four or five of their brilliant nuggets of melancholy shimmer into “Marquee Moon” alone. But like Verlaine, their world is defined by guitars; guitars that are sparkling and pristine, jangly and jittery. They’re steeped in fuzz and reverb— waxed, polished and coated in sun-dappled glare.
Alvvays have already delivered two courses of sensorially stimulating guitar pop on their previous two albums, 2014’s Alvvays and 2017’s Antisocialites, and Blue Rev presents their most richly satisfying meal of six-string dazzle. The transition from their last album to this one didn’t come without some spectacular hurdles—lineup changes, stolen hard drives and flooded rehearsal spaces all in the span of a few years. They’ve come out the other end only sounding like an even stronger band, their songwriting sharpened and their expanded palette of glorious sounds to draw from—C86, 4AD, MBV, even a little SST—given an immaculate production treatment from Shawn Everett (The War on Drugs, The Killers).
The inevitable first impression of Blue Rev is simply to marvel at just how spectacular it sounds—for a band seemingly born from the influence of secondhand cassette compilations of scruffy lo-fi bands, everything here has been given the gift of brightness and clarity. This isn’t just a record for people who love guitars, but guitars that sound really fucking good. They’re squealing and psychedelic on “Lottery Noises,” sprinting across the fretboard like a hypercharged Johnny Marr on “Pressed,” and twinkling in a summer breeze on “After the Earthquake.” All of which would be more than enough for repeated headphone cycles, but there’s a greater degree of sophistication in the construction of these songs as well, structurally unpredictable but resolute, showcasing a mesmerizing array of chord and key changes like Prefab Sprout behind Kevin Shields’ pedalboard.
For her part, vocalist Molly Rankin continues to grow as one of indie rock’s greatest lyricists, a title she already more or less had in the bag on the strength of “Archie, Marry Me” alone. But here she amplifies the poetic agony, often emphasizing the bitter against the melodic sweetness of each of these two- and three-minute pop gems. She has a knack for highlighting the smallest, fleeting details, offering observations like “Up in the front seat/ You were playing with the station/ And I was fidgeting with the heat” on “After the Earthquake,” and deflating someone else’s daydream in “Easy On Your Own”: “Ever lay back and watch the sunrise? Ever hear violins in your mind? Well it’s only wind outside.” The meaning of the words isn’t always important; in the bridge of “Pomeranian Spinsters” (the title itself a kind of dadaist construction), she sings of how “Presbyterian ministers/travel in packs and never split/They deviate in the tiniest concepts,” the words harmoniously falling into place even as what they mean remains elusive. But it’s in the moments that feel the most real, as in the opening of “Pharmacist” (“I saw your sister at the pharmacy/ Picking up/Said you had that new love glow“), that those brief and passing recollections become the most devastating.
There’s another American new wave icon who gets a shout-out on Blue Rev. On late album standout “Belinda Says,” Rankin name drops Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” followed by an ironic twist of the knife: “…well, so is hell.” Even awash in bitterness, the nod to the legendary Go-Go’s singer is an unintentional if apropos reminder that Alvvays are, first and foremost, a pop group. And with Blue Rev—draped in transcendent riffs, head buzzing with puzzling and heartbreaking imagery—they deliver the absolute best of what indie pop can be.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.