More than two thousand miles separate Toronto from the SoCal coast, but its pop culture influence still saturates every millimetre of this self-titled debut from T.O. quintet Alvvays. Produced by Canada’s indie sweetheart Chad VanGaalen in Calgary and mixed by John Agnello, it’s an altogether prettier sound than one would expect with those two at the helm, dripping with stolen glances and sunsets set to irresistible melody.
Like a fleshed out Bleach or a better written Best Coast, the album treads a path through Generation Y anxiety and hearts-a-pounding romance without turning to cliché; at its centre is a wit and self-deprecation at the ultimate ridiculousness of all that angst that puts them far ahead of their peers. Molly Rankin’s lyrics are insightful but not earnest, heartfelt but not dramatic; even in the midst of a heartache, she’s the girl with the sunglasses on, smoking a cigarette and absorbing it all, knowing already the three minute piece of arch observational pop it’s going to become. Her matter of fact, almost child-like singing resonates with obvious echoes of Hope Sandoval, a tougher edge just different enough to avoid tribute.
Overflowing with sunshine keyboards and lyrics as salty dry as the ocean, admittedly, this surf influenced dream pop had me hooked from the start; Adult Diversion has the most infectious middle eight I’ve heard. Big single Archie, Marry Me masks a darker love story with innocent pleading; offered with a detached impassivity that belies its beating heart. These are tales of love and warnings against youthful abandonment that are so easy on the ear you almost don’t hear the edge of sadness brimming below the surface. The coolness of the delivery belies the undercurrent of melancholy, all the more effective for its unexpectedness.
Thankfully, Rankin’s past as fiddle playing folkie is evident only in their mastery of melody, there are no Celtic strings in sight. Guitarist Alec O’Hanley plots a steady course through the C86 tinged journey, his subtle talent rearing its head more noticeably on Next of Kin with a forthright jangling line that could force a smile on even the rainiest day. Every section seems to work in perfect harmony instrumentally, due in part no doubt to the band having known each other since their youth; the girls and the boys growing up on separate small town islands and trading musical influences.
Steadily, over the course of the album, the solidity of the melody and openness of the vocals increase in force, culminating in the shimmering faultlessness of the last two tracks of the nine on offer, the pair a mirror image of the highs and lows of unrequited love. And that's the only criticism. Nine tracks of sugary guitar and peachy fuzz and I was left wanting far more; when did nine, albeit wonderful, tracks become enough to be album? That said, nine is better than none - I’ll just have to get my fix when they join New Jersey’s Real Estate over in the UK for a tour in the Autumn.
Words - Angi Strafford
Buy from Transgressive Records
Watch 'Archie, Marry Me'