Normandie Tottman reviews Wolf Alice’s new album, and tells you just how to listen to all the best tracks…
If Wolf Alice were meant to fall victim to the creative interference of ‘second album syndrome’ then the alternative four-piece clearly didn’t get the memo. The restless Visions of a Life is a gorgeously convoluted narrative that loudly dispels the ‘sophomore slump’ myth and unapologetically propels the genre of Brit rock into another dimension.
Sadness, thrill, fear, angst: the record covers it all. Continuously oscillating between whispers and screams, and often punctuated by conflicting lyrical efforts that dare to at once advance into cathartic outbursts whilst retreating into self-doubt, the unorthodox Visions of a Life documents the freewheeling and uncertain experience of being a young adult in today’s world. It’s a broader, bolder and darker continuation of their 2015 debut My Love is Cool—and its sound is as diverse as the experiences it seeks to narrate.
Upon its first listen the dizzying mixture of grunge, pop and folk can be somewhat intimidating and, to be completely honest, downright confusing. But we got you. Here’s how to listen to the Corbyn-endorsed, dazzling second LP from the London-based quartet:
‘Heavenward’ is the album’s euphoric opener and its catchy hooks make it perhaps the most poppy venture by the band so far. It begins with the subdued musings of shoegaze guitars before suddenly crescendoing into an expansive, ethereal explosion of sound backed by the unrelenting beat of Joel Amey’s percussion. ‘Go heavenward’ instructs singer-guitarist Ellie Rowsell and we follow her soaring vocals there, before the track brings us plummeting back down to earth with the loud-quiet-loud trajectory that is so typical of Wolf Alice’s sound. It’s a musical journey if you’ve ever heard one, and definitely one to add to your playlist for those long night drives when you want to escape the world.
The noisy, vulgar ‘Yuk Foo’ is without a doubt the most irate (and expletive) track on the album. The misleading spoonerism of the title is a feigned attempt at self-restraint; lyrics such as ‘I don’t give a shit’ and ‘fuck the world, and you, and you, and you’ vanquish any suggestion that the band might be holding back here.
This raw, snarling punk track is an acknowledgment of the sheer force of ‘blinding’ anger. It is truthful, uncompromising and at its forefront is a heroine who refuses to curb what she feels at the risk of shocking her audience with her unfeminine outburst. ‘Yuk Foo’ is cathartic and exciting eruption that is most definitely intended to offend—and the best thing is Rowsell really doesn’t care.
You won’t find a more fitting soundtrack to rage than this. Ever have those days when you hate your friends? Hate ‘all the people in the street’? Hate the world? Put this on, have a good scream and let it all go.
This song is a celebration of individuality of ever you’ve heard one. Its music video sees Ellie Rowsell don a Marilyn Monroe-esque wig and rock out to pastel colours galore. Shocking, I know, but the point is she doesn’t have to be a gothic heroine all of the time.
The song references Winona Ryder’s ‘walking contradiction’ of character from the 1988 dark America comedy Heathers—a character who has her ‘head way up in a storm cloud/ Calm but so extreme’. Her complexity is unorthodox but nonetheless beautiful—and I think it would be safe to say that Rowsell identifies with this complexity. Enough to write a whole song about it, anyway.
‘Beautifully Unconventional’ is, in essence, the exploration of identity that revels in non-conformity and self-expression. A song for when you need a reminder that that it’s not just ok to be individual, it’s beautiful too.
Don’t Delete the Kisses
Love isn’t all sunshine and roses: queue Visions of a Life’s leading single ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’.
The whirring, synth-heavy melodies and Pet Shop Boy-style monotoning by Rowsell makes the song feel like it could belong on the soundtrack of E4’s ‘Skins’. Yet, whilst ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ feels cinematic in scope, at its heart lies the personal tale of a girl too uncertain and shy to pursue the love she so clearly desires: ‘instead I’m typing you a message/ That I know I’ll never send/ Rewriting old excuses/ Delete the kisses at the end’.
Herein lays the beauty of one of the more tender offerings from the album. It details a side of romantic love so rarely touched upon in today’s mainstream; the side of love fuelled by anxiety and self-doubt, and the fear of giving your heart to the one person who has the power to break it so dramatically.
In an interview with NME, Ellie revealed that she wanted to ‘write one of those head-out-the-window on a long drive tunes. And I wanted to try my hand at a like a hold-nothing-back love song’—‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ ticks all of those boxes. If you’re in search of a song that truthfully chronicles the intricacies of young love and all the mind-games that follow suit without falling into a ditch of romantic clichés, then this is a tune for you.
Visions of a Life
The song that lends the album its title and the final jigsaw piece of Wolf Alice’s twelve-part journey. It’s lengthy, ambitious and diverse track but the band pull it off with poise.
‘Visions of a Life’ is a beast that gradually builds; twisting and evolving as it threads together the plethora of musical styles and themes that the album so neatly archives. We still have the angst seen previously: ‘fear of crashing and not coming back/ I’m a curse to my friends, to be condemned/ Mistakes I made and won’t mend.’ There are peaks and troughs as the song expands and contracts but, in the end, ‘Visions of a Life’ provides the perfect summary track for an album fraught with complexities.
Visions of a Life is a multifaceted record that mirrors the eclectic life experiences that make us who we really are. I’m not sure it’s an album I’ll ever entirely ‘get’, but it is certainly one that makes me feel—as Rowsell recognises: ‘there are things that tie the ‘Yuk Foos’ and ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ together if you know what I mean. There’s hopefully something for everyone. I too struggle to define it.’ We feel you, Ellie.
Follow Normandie Tottman on Twitter: @NormyTottman