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Alvvays’ ‘Blue Rev’ review: bite-sized indie rock perfection

The cover of Alvvays’ new album, “Blue Rev.” The album released on Oct. 7 after five years without new music from the indie rockers. COURTESY OF SPOTIFY

The new Alvvays album is a chaotic mess, with hooks that are difficult to pick out and more tempo changes than should conceivably fit within 40 minutes — and it’s perfect.

Alvvays, the Canadian indie rock group whose two previous albums were short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, took five years to follow up 2017’s “Antisocialites,” touring extensively as the album evolved into a modern classic. It was worth the wait. “Blue Rev,” released on Oct. 7, is Alvvays’ best record to date.

The band recorded all of “Blue Rev” in just two live takes and then let producer Shawn Everett (The Killers, The War on Drugs) fill it with every sonic trick in the book. The effect is immediately apparent. Where “Antisocialites” at times felt rigid and overly coordinated, “Blue Rev” is sprawling and unpredictable, without sacrificing any of the tight songwriting the group is known for.  Most of the album’s 14 songs are under three minutes long, but they include enough ideas to fill tunes double that length. The songs often don’t even have choruses, and any repetition that is present comes with a complete lyrical shift or a brand new guitar riff. 

Everything is coated in a lush wall of feedback that makes the album a bit less accessible than Alvvays’ previous two records. For this reason, it takes a few listens for “Blue Rev” to truly work its magic. The band appears averse to reusing any of its ideas, and the songs blur together without defining hooks to separate them. By the end of a record filled with fuzz and guitar parts that change every 10 seconds, it can be difficult to remember which song housed a particular riff.

That’s not a criticism, because Alvvays isn’t trying to make songs that sound distinct from each other; the songs sound distinct from themselves. Standout “Tile by Tile” begins as a slow, moody electronic number, but just one minute later frontwoman Molly Rankin is belting out the lyrics like she’s impersonating Katy Perry at a karaoke bar. “Pressed” only needs a two-minute runtime to move from minimalistic jangle pop to a heavy synth track with three competing vocal melodies.

Over time, little moments of beauty begin to stand out. “After the Earthquake” is the closest Alvvays has come to writing a dance track, but its propulsive energy hides perhaps the band’s most lingering earworm since 2014’s “Party Police.” At the end of “Velveteen,” Rankin shows off an impossibly high falsetto that is never again revisited, and it’s all the better for it.

The experimentation leads “Blue Rev” down paths we’ve never seen the band take before. “Pomeranian Spinster” is a punk track à la “Plimsoll Punks” but adds a groove rarely heard from Alvvays before. The end of “Tom Verlaine” sees Rankin doing her best millennial whoop, making the otherwise impenetrable wall of noise seem melodic. At three minutes and twenty-seven seconds, it’s the album’s longest track.

The staggeringly loud feedback means that Rankin’s lyrics can be easy to miss, and they’re often impossible to discern without consulting the liner notes. Still, her tongue-in-cheek humor fits well with the album’s jaunty nature. At times she’ll bring the mood down; “Belinda Says” opines that Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven on Earth” should have been about hell. But she’s mostly just poking fun at her everyday life, like teasing a man who ghosted her on “Very Online Guy.” It’s all paired with a baritone that can seem overly-serious if you aren’t listening close enough.

The album does have some misses. Lead single “Pharmacist” is too dull to be saved by its blistering 20-second outro. “Lottery Noises” attempts something close to hard rock but ends up overstaying its welcome. And nothing on the album quite lives up to the picture-perfect songwriting of past singles “In Undertow” and “Not My Baby.”

Still, “Blue Rev” is an exceptional body of work, expertly toeing the line between dense and cohesive.

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