Why Alvvays’ Self-Titled Record Should Win the Polaris Prize

by Jack Derricourt

Polaris is upon us and I want to tell you about an album. It’s not really a product of 2015. Technically, the quest to make the album began in 2012, in sessions with Chad VanGaalen, but it has since then been touched up and released in a shiny new mode for the current Polaris year. That’s fine. If Definitely Maybe taught us anything, it’s that if an album is worth doing right, do it at least twice.

This is the monster Canadian pop album of the last five years. Sure, Arcade Fire know how to challenge pop conceptions, fill the cup to the brim with innovation and reinvention; and yes, this is still not Bieber-level explicitly sickly sweet, luxury produced Top 40. But Alvvays is seminal guitar song full length teenage/twenties kicks.

This is indie pop, the same shimmering, jangled, twee as fuck and punk at the same time stuff you’ve heard before — but Alvvays is just simply a cut above the rest. Molly Rankin’s crooning has contaminated the airwaves. Alec O’Hanley’s delicate, magnificent guitar melodies have blended with the times and come out sounding new and fresh (while being about as classic as it gets, drawing on influences like Teenage Fanclub and The Smiths). Try and tell me that cruising the highways with the windows down, listening to “Archie, Marry Me,” just as the pleading chorus lyric and the scratching guitar distortion kicks back in following the middle eight, doesn’t sound like a perfect portrait of the fading summer. You can’t — I knew it.

2014’s self-titled release might not be a statement record, an album to change the face of Canadian music, but for a debut, it soars with potential and powerful enthusiasm. A majority of that power stems from the voices present in Rankin’s lyrics. These are chiefly songs of affection, discussing the unpreparedness of many who enter into the negotiation of love. The majority of the speakers are outsiders, outcasts, looking in on situations that feel constrained and socially restrictive; often, it is the will of the crowd versus the individual — and we all know who to cheer for, don’t we boys and girls?

While the sound of the record is of assertive energy, rather than melancholy, there are incredibly touching, sensitive moments: the speaker of “Party Police” asks the addressee to choose debauched tenderness rather than the aforementioned locals; the succinct and sweet deep cut “Dives” empathises with the timidity of the subject’s situation, laughing off the slow pace of connections in a winterized world.

Perhaps the greatest treasure gained from a listening of Alvvays is the sheer cliff of freedom possessed in the songs. The opening guitar line of “Next of Kin” is like a soft serve ice cream cone shoved in your eye: startlingly sweet and refreshing. The verses of “Ones Who Love You” examine the tenuous give and take of desirability and social groups but the choruses break out in pure individualistic flight — the speaker is a cyclist in a thunderstorm, an astronaut “skipping rocks.” And what could be more imaginatively freeing than a message from Mars, as closing track “Red Planet” provides?

Highlights don’t really do Alvvays justice. There is so much listening to be had within the reverb-drenched world the band creates. It might have taken a while to get right, but it was worth all the effort. Five solid singles, loving kindness b-sides, and purely Canadian introspection. Yeah, this deserves a prize. Give it to the new blood.

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