the marriage of jangle-pop and post-punk has been a fruitful union; the latter sort of embodies the pessimistic outlook so often attributed to millennials while the former crusades against that preconceived notion, placing melodies and hooks in the foreground of an angsty wasteland. a classic yin and yang of music. nestled somewhere in the midst of this movement is alvvays, a toronto quintet whose riffs long for sunny beaches (presumably on the west coast, but maybe not) yet whose lyrics are full of melancholy, self-doubt, and regret, creating somewhat of an apparent identity crisis. on the band’s self-titled debut, however, they prove time and again that this is a carefully calculated method of expression.
standing at the center of alvvays is molly rankin, her bored demeanor and slightly sullen lyrics often tracing the very riffs she chimes out on guitar. the album hits hard with the one-two punch of “adult diversion” and “archie, marry me,” its opening number demonstrating how effortlessly rankin and fellow guitarist alec o’hanley are able to weave their guitar parts around one another. supported by tongue-in-cheek lyrics with blunt questions that would leave the recipient sputtering, “adult diversion” segues into the mid-tempo, chord-crunching “archie, marry me,” a song that finds rankin enhancing her wry delivery by immediately conceding “you expressed explicitly / your contempt for matrimony” but trivializing the sentiment in the same breath with “you have student loans to pay / you will not risk the alimony.”
amidst the quick wit and humorous jabs lies a sense that rankin is grappling with darker, perhaps more pertinent emotions. the subtle drum programming and wandering guitar riffs on “ones who love you” precede “next of kin,” a first-person narrative detailing the drowning of a boyfriend. while the subject matter and its metaphor are morose, rankin manages to maintain some of her light disposition, and the duality of the song is further augmented by an earworm of a guitar riff (probably the album’s best) that crops up between chorus and verse.
the rest of alvvays finds the band trying on various identities for sides, usually with varying results. the intervallic leaps throughout the chorus of “party police” get a bit repetitive and mundane, but the bare, ominous synth introduction to “dives” showcases a decidedly more delicate side of alvvays, one that is enhanced by the passive triple meter of the drum machine and the simple guitar arpeggios that stumble into the mix alongside rankin’s voice. “red planet” closes out the album on the opposite end of the spectrum from “adult diversion,” allowing rankin’s vocals to provide the melody while synthesizers and a bass guitar provide harmonic motion. for the first time on the record, rankin and her lyrics are put squarely in the spotlight, and she shines as this wonderful summer soundtrack drives off into the sunset.