Alvvays present a pleasant listen and nothing more.
At their best, Alvvays never rose beyond “pleasant.” There’s nothing wrong with being a pleasant indie-pop artist; it at least implies a level of competence that some of Alvvays’ contemporaries desperately lack. Yet, it remains baffling that quite a few people latched on to the band’s mostly-fine debut as something greater. Perhaps they tapped into some miniature zeitgeist, but if Antisocialites is anything to go by, Alvvays may not have the staying power that many would have preferred. Like its predecessor, Antisocialites is an enjoyable listen that may actually improve upon the band’s self-titled debut in some respects, yet it falls short of making any real impact.
Noticeably, Antisocialites sounds quite a bit cleaner than Alvvays’ previous effort. Credit should be given to the band and producer John Congleton there; the distortion and fuzz of “Plimsoll Punks,” for example, sounds a lot punchier when it’s not part of an overarching lo-fi din. Furthermore, it allows the band’s new, more downbeat material to stand out. On “Dreams Tonite,” singer Molly Rankin gives an affecting lament over a broken relationship. Better still is “Not My Baby,” a slightly on-the-nose girl group tribute with a sweet, melancholic tinge that gets at the feeling of emptiness that comes with the end of young love. While these are all relative baby steps forward, they still mark that Alvvays is at least mildly interested in moving away from their comfort zone.
Sadly, those songs are more the exception than the rule, as most of Antisocialites consists of Alvvays sounding much like they did the last time around. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with returning to a well-honed sound or style that worked in the past; bands have built whole careers on doing just that. However, Alvvays doesn’t have the assured attitude or innate skill to pull this off. Instead, the album reads as something of a lack of ideas. Often, it seems as if the band thought that some of these songs would sound different enough simply because the album is more cleanly produced than it was last time. While the added polish makes some superficial differences, there’s still little in the way of nuance or depth from a lot of this material. When the moody closer “Forget About Life” comes around, it’s almost a relief insofar as it presents itself as deeper and more substantial than what came before. And even then, its nihilism about the creep of gentrification and the plight of young people feels decidedly juvenile.
Alvvays tap some of their musical inspirations, both literally and in spirit. Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake contributes backing vocals on “In Undertow,” and “Lollipop (Song for Jim)” was inspired by an encounter with Jim Reid from the Jesus and Mary Chain on the bands’ recent tour together. Still, neither track helps the album transcend its unremarkable status. Alvvays show signs of evolution on Antisocialites, but the maturity that’s supposed to come with that is still a long way off. Once again, Alvvays present a pleasant listen and nothing more.