Music Reviews
Blue Rev

Alvvays Blue Rev

(Polyvinyl / Transgressive) Rating - 10/10

The world is accelerating. That’s a phrase I keep skim-reading in newspaper columns, scrolling furiously past on social media feeds and hearing in podcasts (2x speed naturally). It’s why people barely listen to albums—and certainly don’t read album reviews—anymore. The generic modern-day consumer has the attention span of a distracted gnat and is always on the hunt for the next thing, or so we’re led to believe. This places a band like Toronto’s Alvvays, who started making waves way back in 2013, in an unenviable position.

Nine years have passed since the early thrill of Archie, Marry Me and two impressive albums—2014’s assured debut Alvvays and 2017’s Juno Award-winning Antisocialites—have helped the band garner a devoted mid-level indie band kind of fanbase. But after a five-year break, has the wider world moved on to the next buzz band—or something else altogether? And is there sufficient scope within the Alvvays brand of fuzzy, cerebral indie-pop to recapture the excitement of their breakthrough?

Well, you’ve seen the big, fat spoiler at the top—the simple answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. Blue Rev isn’t just the comforting sound of steady progress; of a band evolving with experience. It’s not simply an incremental improvement. It’s a quantum leap. As far as third albums go, it’s their Forever Changes, Summerteeth, and The Meadowlands rolled into one. It really is monumental. 

It becomes clear this is an entirely different Alvvays precisely seven seconds into Pharmacist, when a comforting barrage of Kevin Shields-esque glide guitar suddenly explodes into the mix. The sound is confident and assured. They’re still having fun with their influences, but are crucially no longer daunted by them. And maybe they’re even daring to surpass them.

Pharmacist soars like nothing I’ve heard since the early 90s, evoking the very best music of Lush and the Pale Saints. With the utmost respect to those venerable shoegazers, this is just better. And it’s just the start.

Easy On Your Own? follows, another slab of swirling sonic bliss, which somehow manages to be an existential musing on post-breakup college dropout life and a stonking great pop song. Molly Rankin’s accomplished vocals match the hooks for sheer grandeur and the lyrics achieve that neat trick of being simultaneously specific and totally universal.

After the Earthquake provides the first glimpse of jangle and power-pop, the latter being a prevalent influence throughout. Historically, Alvvays have always been happy to tap into their love of Teenage Fanclub, but Blue Rev suggests they’ve ventured far further down the power-pop rabbit hole in recent years. There are fleeting glimpses of Big Star naturally, but The dBs also spring to mind, especially in the sinewy guitar run that sparks Earthquake to life. It’s not quite the riff from Black and White, but it’s equally satisfying.

If this opening trio of singles sets the bar outrageously high, the rest of Blue Rev succeeds in maintaining the standard admirably.

Pressed successfully channels both Morrissey and Marr aspects of This Charming Man-era Smiths. Very Online Guy is a more experimental offering, landing somewhere in the admittedly vast space between Deerhoof and Beach House. Pomeranian Spinster (best title of the year anyone?) is spikier, sitting at the punkier end of the power-pop spectrum.

I could dissect every song on this record, but you’ll surely enjoy exploring its nooks and crannies far more on your own. I can’t sign off, however, without singing the praises of the wonderful Belinda Says. Following a sublime key change in the song’s final third, Rankin delivers the killer couplet “Belinda says that heaven is a place on earth / well so is hell”. The way she extends and contorts the word “hell” is arguably the biggest goosebump moment on an album crammed full of them. It’s simply stunning. And of course as a child of the early 80s, I’m totally here for that Belinda Carlisle reference.

Now, a final word about my rating. I’ve only awarded perfect tens to a couple of new releases in 23 years of reviewing for No Ripcord and I regret them both. I’ve mulled this decision over for a week and I’m convinced I won’t regret it this time. Blue Rev is everything I love about popular music; a record so potent that on listening, this bitter, cynical 40-year-old feels like a teenager discovering Loveless or #1 Record or Bandwagonesque for the first time again. It is truly one for the ages.