Wolf Alice are a self proclaimed indie/grunge band four-piece from Camden, England, whose debut album, ‘My Love Is Cool’ was nominated for the 2015 Mercury Music Prize. Now, we all know awards aren’t everything and sometimes the best albums are overlooked by critics, but that LP was pure dynamite. Grunge and indie don’t begin to do them justice, they’re so much more than those two genres.
Just to get my baggage out in the open? I’m a massive Wolf Alice fan and have been since I discovered them in-between Jamie T and Pixies tracks a few years ago: I’ve seen them live, I’ve got T-shirts and posters, I woke up at 3am and waited for four hours outside of a record store one April to buy a 7” b-side that only had 350 pressed into existence. I’m not just a fan. I’m a committed one. ‘My Love Is Cool’ and their EPs prior provided the soundtrack to my life for the past couple of years, and I eagerly awaited this second album (‘Visions of a Life’).
I clicked on ‘Yuk Foo’ the second I saw it had been put up on YouTube. Finally! A new Wolf Alice song! Yet.. for all of my excitement I was disappointed. Where was the originality? Yeah, it was surely different for the band who’ve had their vicious moments but hadn’t yet come close to the snarling riot-grrl that was ‘Yuk Foo’, but to me it sounded just like Bikini Kill. Or Jack Off Jill. Or L7. Or a string of other girl-led punk bands from the 90s. It sounded just like Bikini Kill, but it wasn’t Bikini Kill, and there was it’s fault. It sounded as though Ellie Rowsell (the lead singer) and her cohorts were dressing up and playing pretend – “oh I can be scathing just like Kathleen Hanna” – and that to me, was disappointing. Where was the band who I simply adored for their original style, their interesting lyrics (what was interesting about “I don’t give a shit” being repeated over and over?), their variety? Yes, like we already established, Wolf Alice hadn’t attempted riot-grrl before, and ‘Yuk Foo’ is definitely different in that way, but how was it different from music already existing? The thing that made ‘My Love Is Cool’ so special and genuine was the fact that I hadn’t heard anything like ‘Turn To Dust’ and ‘Your Loves Whore’ from any other band. Going from tracks like ‘Silk’ to ‘You’re A Germ’, it was varied but all were high quality. Upon first listening I couldn’t consider ‘Yuk Foo’ up to par. I was annoyed in a very silly way, how could this band I love so much not be as great as they once were? I disagreed with NME, Clash, and The Guardian who all adored it. Obviously it was just of popular opinion to like Wolf Alice, so like Wolf Alice they would, whether or not the album was actually any good. Where were the honest critiques? I wondered. I chalked it up to the band being one of the classic My-First-Album-Was-Amazing-So-I-Can-Never-Live-Up-To-It types.
Fast-forward a month later to the release of their second single from ‘Visions Of A Life’: ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’. I had listened to ‘Yuk Foo’ over fifty times and suddenly I would find myself humming it while at work. Suddenly it was good and addictive. Suddenly maybe those critics were right. It was a sudden fondness, you might pick up on. I won’t apologize for my first thoughts on the single, but I can tell you I’ve had a definite change of heart. Now let’s jump to ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’. From other Wolf Alice tracks you mightn’t expect a love song, one might expect something sad and forlorn, romantic but in a heartbroken way. This is where they surprise you. Never expect anything from this band. “What if it’s not meant for me? Love.” Filled with self-doubts and a giddy nervous sort of energy, it ends happily, like a cheesy movie or how you’d want your life to go. In sum, the four minute track is synth-heavy and aerial, the sort of song that makes you want to take flight. I listened to it over and over again (I’m still listening too much) and was pleased that I revered it on first listen. Sometimes first impressions are important.
Two other tracks were released prior to the release of the album this past Friday (Sept, 29th via Dirty Hit), ‘Heavenward’ and ‘Beautifully Unconventional’. Both provided something different when put up against their predecessors for comparison and leave you going, “are you sure this is on the same album?” That’s my favorite sort of album though, as I’m sure it is most people’s. ‘Heavenward’ is a shoegazing tune reminiscent of the Stone Roses ‘This Is The One’ (speaking of bands with great debut’s), and ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ has a fairly self-descriptive title and tune I’m finding stuck in my head on at least a weekly basis.
Listening to ‘Visions of a Life’ in it’s entirety was a pleasurable experience, though one filled with anxious lyrics detailing those bite your fingernail moments in life. ‘Sky Musings’ sees Rowsell pondering about a plane crashing – one she’s on – while ‘Formidable Cool’ provides guitarist Joff Oddie room to shine.
Upon first glance ‘Visions of a Life’ is wonderful, but give it second try, or even a third, and you’ll be hard pressed to not think this band is breaking free from the pack and moving on to recognized greatness. What I said about dressing up and playing pretend? Wolf Alice doesn’t have to dress up and play, they’ll have their own wannabes soon enough.
Key Tracks: ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’, ‘Sky Musings’, ‘Formidable Cool’, ‘Heavenward’