I have a love/hate relationship with dream pop. Too much gauze and things lose their edge in all the wrong ways, but not enough and the attempt at genre fidelity feels halfhearted. It can be tough to get right.
But Alvvays know how to find the right balance between breeziness and weightiness. Whether we’re talking songwriting, lyrics, melody, or production, this is a band that strikes the right balance. It’s not small feat, and something that many bands take three or four releases to get right.
In crafting Antisocialites, the band had to fend off the “sophomore slump.” Three years earlier, their debut self-titled LP made a big splash and instantly endeared itself to many, including me. On radio, the record benefited from “Archie, Marry Me,” a huge, catchy, effortless singalong of a lead single. While Antisocialites doesn’t have a self-evident single like this, it more than makes up for it with consistency.
In battling the sophomore slump, a lot of young bands decide to return to the producer they first worked with. I don’t know why; perhaps it’s anxiety driven. But Alvvays wisely decided to make a left turn, trading Chad Van Gaalen for John Congleton. That’s significant, because those two producers have opposite signature sounds: Van Gaalen a soft, vintage haze, and Congleton (St. Vincent, Future Islands) a clean, precise, palette. The result is a sharper sound than their self-titled record, but there’s still a warmth and dreaminess as a result of Molly Rankin’s lilting vocals and tasteful dashes of synths here and guitar reverb there.
This is a very melodic band, and the vocal melodies often escalate gently, taking listeners up, up to a sweeping peak before setting them back down for verse two. Thankfully, there’s just enough of a punk quality too, like in the surprisingly knotty guitars and driving drums that kick in on “Plimsoll Punks.”
There’s also more emotion on this one than the previous album. “Not My Baby” isn’t afraid to be unabashedly sad in spots where earlier Alvvays songs were more playful. It really works, and Rankin is adept at handling a kaleidoscope of emotion in a single song. The album wraps up with “Forget About Life,” a pleading song in which Rankin seems to have found new love. It’s always great when bands save one of the strongest songs for last, rather than front-loading their album and producing a “diminishing returns” listening experience.
In sum, this is a very strong second outing from a band that I suspect has a long career ahead of them. A great addition to the modern Can-rock scene.