Alvvays – Antisocialites (2017)

Dream/twee/indie pop outfit Alvvays’ sophomore album is a clear improvement on their debut. Antisocialites feels like the beginning of Alvvays really carving out a distinct niche for themselves in a somewhat saturated dream pop market. They don’t manage to maintain that distinctiveness on every song of the album, but there are promising peaks on the highlights of this album and the lowlights are still solid – just a little too generically trendy sounding to me. At the end of the day, I’m happy with this project, and the handful of tracks that I have continued listening to since its release have had a permanent spot in my playlists as we move into the fall months.

Antisocialites is an album that feels pulled in two different directions. At times, this indie pop record feels more drawn to its pop intentions, with melodic and catchy hooks, upbeat tempos, and jangly and fun guitars. At other times, Alvvays slow down and write dream pop ballads that are deeply emotional and lyrically significant. It stands to reason then that the real successes of Antisocialites are in the tracks where Alvvays combine these two flavors. “Dreams Tonite” and “Forget About Life” are some of my favorite tracks of the year. They succeed on all fronts, combining wonderfully catchy hooks with nostalgic and emotional themes bolstered by strong songwriting. There are times where Antisocialites comes up short as well. I felt that tracks like “Plimsoll Punks” and “Hey” ended up fallling completely flat – they’re not particularly catchy or emotionally interesting at all.

To expand, it really is Alvvays’ focus on songwriting and the performance of those more emotional tracks that really set them apart in the indie pop world right now. There are plenty of dreamy, noisy, and fashionable indie pop groups out there making music that sounds a lot like this. The difference with Alvvays and Antisocialites is their attention to detail and intangibles. Lead vocalist Molly Rankin steals the show in all of the best tracks here. She longs in “Dreams Tonite” over a perfect nostalgic electric piano. “Lollipop” is a generic surfy twee pop song performed by any other artist – Rankin absolutely slays it. In “Forget About Life”, a devastating closer, she is given half the song to show off how beautiful and fitting her voice is for this project and absolutely kills it. None of this is meant to be a knock on the instrumental performances and arrangements either – they are also excellent. “In Undertow” is one of my favorite songs to showcase the instrumentals here. It features that same pleasant electric piano that is featured in other tracks, a driving bass groove, understated but punchy percussion, and rhythmic guitar that all come together to create that trendy “wall of sound” dream pop style. It’s a great  sound and there’s a reason it is so popular right now. The kicker for Alvvays is that they’re using this style as a platform to really create a deep emotional connection with the listener rather than simply relying on the pure trendiness of this style to carry them.

As stated above, Antisocialites is not a perfect album, and at times Alvvays drifts back into sounding unlike themselves: generic. “Plimsoll Punks” has about exactly two listens in it before it becomes grating, and it’s difficult to tell “Your Type”, “Not My Baby”, “Hey” and a lot of these other tracks during the middle stretch of the album apart without going back through, listening to each, and thinking: “Oh, it’s that one.” It’s not really that any of these songs are bad, they just feel more like generic indie pop. They are in stark contrast to “In Undertow” and “Dreams Tonite”, which are so captivating you couldn’t possibly forget about them.  I won’t drone on about tracks that I thought were mostly just taking up space on this album, but I will say that I’ve narrowed down Antisocialites into a little 4-5 song suite in my playlists – the rest of the album sounds pretty disposable.

I couldn’t help but feel like Antisocialites has a lot in common with the Japanese Breakfast album from earlier this year. They’re both trendy dream pop albums that really shine on the tracks where they can create the emotional connection with the listener. They’re both albums that – at worst – are simply generic. In other words, neither album has any bad songs and they play rather consistently when listened to straight through. It’s exciting to have these artists creating this emotional connection in this genre right now. Ironically, it has felt like the indie music sphere has at times been some of the most predictable and generic music made in the last five years (especially as pop and hip-hop become more strange and exotic by the day). The emotional mark Antisocialites leaves is remarkably refreshing. I think Alvvays has a ton of potential to really come up with something outstanding and consistently unique on their next album, and they’ve shown impressive growth already here.

Nonetheless, Antisocialites is a great listen for someone that enjoys that dreamy indie sound and its release came at a good time of the year – the album certainly feels autumnal. Even if indie dream pop is not your thing, I’d definitely recommend checking out “Dreams Tonite” and it’s wonderful accompanying video – it’s one of my absolute favorite singles of the year.

7/10

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