Music Reviews
Blue Weekend

Wolf Alice Blue Weekend

(RCA Records) Rating - 7/10

Wolf Alice likes to take their time with each release. Four years after 2017's Visions of a Life, which netted the North London quartet a Mercury Prize and a Grammy nomination, Blue Weekend completely towers all of their previous output in both ambition and scale. Though going as far back as their 2015 single Your Loves Whore, there were already hints of a band whose '90s leaning, shape-shifting sound would faithfully adhere to the tenets of British guitar rock. But more importantly, make it sound essential and even important again: as if they'd found the secret formula to make cult shoegaze bands like Swervedriver and Slowdive sound accessible.

Aided by the assistance of super-producer Markus Dravs, whose resume includes working on Coldplay (Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends) and Arcade Fire's (The Suburbs) most bombastic and critically-acclaimed albums, Blue Weekend gets that same lush and exquisite treatment. Even if, to a certain degree, their songwriting tends to serve the song rather than aim for arena-rock status. This makes for a collection of story-based songs that feel intimate even at their most cinematic, which is not exactly a coincidence, given how the band members went through the exercise of pairing the demos they wrote against movie trailers and TV episodes.

Wolf Alice further tap into that concept on The Beach, a two-parter that bookends the album with a likeminded guitar strum—though, while one plays with towering dynamics, the other descends into mournful surf rock. Delicious Things follows with the album's first big statement, as frontperson Eillie Goswell breaks into jazzy scat singing—opening up about her off-putting, and sometimes embracing, experiences with Hollywood's excess and fakery. While on Lipstick on the Glass, she fails to restore a failing relationship while the rest of the band members add a shimmering, dimly lit atmosphere that's not unlike PJ Harvey's 2000 LP Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

Outside of the Big Muff-style fuzz of Smile, which recalls the band's early days, Blue Weekend does head into some unexplored territory. Roswell continues to grow as a versatile performer, channeling her pop impulses with gusto—whether she embraces Abba-esque harmonies with a country lilt (Safe from Heartbreak), brings bright, celestial touches to synthy mid-tempo ballads (How Can I Make it OK), or howls her way through speedy punk rock (Feeling Myself.) And though everything doesn't fall into place, she does inject her unique personality into whatever style she chooses.

Musically, Blue Weekend serves as a refreshing counterpoint to the U.K.'s recent post-punk renaissance led by acts such as Squid, The Murder Capital, and Dry Cleaning. But Roswell also shares themes of shame, confusion, and feeling lost in the song's blissful anthems, quelling her twentysomething anxieties with great detail. Many of these components are interchangeable, but Wolf Alice has that desire to reach outward rather than inward—as they convey their unease in a way that's welcoming and not austere. There's a place for both, sure, but the intentions here couldn't be any more than clearer in their delivery. Everything about this succulent production just shines, and the soundtrack they've built around it will fit right in with some dramatic scenes—just as they intended to.