You can’t throw a stone these days without hitting a band that spells their own name wrong on purpose. Perhaps that stands more as a testament to the sheer mass of existing bands past and present than pure stylistic whim or ironic jab. In this sea of latecomers Alvvays stands out, revitalizing the current pop climate with 80s guitar pop, creative synth flairs, and romantic, witty observations about love, culture, and identity. To misappropriate Shakespeare, that which we call Alvvays would by any other spelling shred as sweet.
On the heels of releasing their self-titled debut LP in 2014, Alvvays was catapulted into the major festival circuit, achieving the level of commercial success many go entire careers without, following their first and sole album. This trajectory often leads new bands into oblivion; crushing pressure to continue their streak of excellence can create a toxic environment, leading to disappointing returns of full-blown burn out. Alvvays let their work breathe, returning three years later with Antisocialites (2017). Excluding King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, churning out records is a surefire way to ensure a drop in quality.
Live staples from the past year “New Haircut” (now titled “Saved By a Waif”), “Dreams Tonite,” and “Not My Baby” appear on Antisocialites, which dropped last month on Polyvinyl. Their growth is evident on the new album. To be clear, they never waivered on the first record; I would compare the two as pale lace to a vivid velvet—there is a change in color and texture, one that serves its content fairly.
“Do you know where Canada is? We’re from there!” Molly Rankin, guitarist and vocalist of the Toronto-formed band joked on Tuesday night at The Fillmore in San Francisco. Also hailing from Canada, tourmates Nap Eyes, a four-piece from Halifax with the folk charm of Kevin Morby and the jangly pop rock of EZTV. Further research yielded guitarist Brad Loughead is also a member of a great band called Each Other. The sold out show was the last stop for opener Nap Eyes, who has been touring with Alvvays since the beginning of October. For the rest of their American dates, Alvvays will share the bill with Oakland’s very own Jay Som.
As the projection screen illuminated the misspelled name, the five members assumed their posts and began the set with “Saved By a Waif”. Molly Rankin’s melismatic soprano filled the hall instantly and often contoured in exciting moments of harmony or counterpoint with keyboardist Kerri MacLellan throughout the show. The projection accompaniment (and Rankin’s lustrous silver shirt) closely resembled the aesthetic curated in the gauzy, space-y music video for leading single “In Undertow”. During highlight “Lollipop (Ode to Jim),” Rankin is not exactly indirect in her lyricism — the opening line “Saw Jim Reid in the corridor / And I wondered if he could ever see me that way” is followed in the second verse with the blunt “You asked me if I was intrigued by LSD.” They played every song off the new record except “Already Gone” and most of the first record as well. Love it or hate it, that’s the reality of seeing a band that hasn’t been together for ten years, which is nothing to complain about.
Article and photos by Ally Mason