Album Review: Alvvays – Blue Rev

[Polyvinyl / Transgressive; 2022]

Canadian dream pop outfit Alvvays arrived on scene in 2014 fully formed. With a winning combination of twee-infused shoegaze coupled with lead singer Molly Rankin’s infectious vocals, the Toronto collective were destined for some degree of adoration. Unsurprisingly, their debut record Alvvays, and its follow-up, 2017’s Antisocialites, were both short-listed for the Polaris Prize, and the latter won the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year.

Antisocialites brought them much fortune, including an opening spot on The National’s Sleep Well Beast fall tour in 2018, and while nothing tracked quite as hard as the band’s breakthrough single “Archie, Marry Me,” outstanding cuts like “Dreams Tonite” were all over indie radio stations and year end lists.

The next step would have been a quick turnaround album to build off the momentum, but much like Kendrick Lamar and Björk, Alvvays took five long years to get back to us with Blue Rev. At a dazzling 14 tracks and 38 minutes, Blue Rev is the fullest full-length album by Alvvays to date, with their previous efforts barely reaching a half hour.

The gap between releases wasn’t intentional. Life got in the way, as it usually does. Band members left; Rankin had her apartment broken into and demos stolen; a basement flood nearly destroyed everyone’s gear. With border closures keeping the band separated, each took their time with building those creative juices before reassembling in 2021 for the recording of Blue Rev.

The time off seems to have only helped make the band even more adventurous than before. With an emphasis on genre-boundary pushing and perfecting hook-writing, Blue Rev is Alvvays’ sparkling return. The opener, and song of the year contender, “Pharmacist” is two minutes of pure blissful shoegazing, with some My Bloody Valentine-esque layering compacted into their punchy pop structuring. The distortion and dreaminess is amped up from Antisocialites and it’s a welcome addition to the band’s overall sound.

Blue Rev comes off more shoegazing than dream-pop intentionally, reinventing the band on the border of the genre line. “Many Mirrors” smacks of RIDE’s Going Blank Again, whereas “Belinda Says” (a reference to Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Gos, not Belinda Butcher of My Bloody Valentine, mind you) features a classic rock aesthetic à la Hum. “Very Online Guy”, on the other hand, goes hard with the synths. Altogether, it makes for a collection of songs that feel familiar but fresh.

Rankin’s upped the ante in her shimmering lyricism and featherlight vocal melodies, as nearly every track on Blue Rev features ear-worm choruses that speak to the listener while drawing them in. “Bored in Bristol” deliriously rolls out of focus as she repeats the forlorn phrase “always waiting”, which stays with us long after it’s over. “Lottery Noises” pairs a wicked guitar riff with Rankin’s “Take another shot / I won’t shoot you down,” showcasing her range and vitality.

What’s interesting with Blue Rev, and Alvvays as a whole, is that the simplicity of their music doesn’t prevent it from resonating. In a time where everyone has to be doing something new, Alvvays are both taking that true to heart and staying the same. The core sound of the band is intact, they just have added layers of complexity to it. This is audible in the undeniable familiarity of “After the Earthquake”, which has jangle pop written in its code, with danceable qualities that would draw comparisons to Purity Ring or Wild Nothing, but it still possesses that Alvvays charm, so it never loses to those comparisons.

With Blue Rev, Alvvays rocket back into contention when it comes to leaders of the cyclical shoegaze revival that pops up every few years. A honed songwriting approach from Rankin seems to fuel Blue Rev, with only a few songs inching beyond three minutes. This excess-trimming approach makes Blue Rev the leanest the band has sounded, but also makes it their tightest work to date.