I don’t think Canadian indie-pop darlings Alvvays realized what they’d done when they made “Archie, Marry Me,” the lead single on their 2014 self-titled debut. The glitzy, faux shoegaze pop ballad gets it right on so many levels, that it isn’t hard to see how excited the band must have been after recording. In choosing to hoist the slow-dance anthem above their heads from the get-go, Alvvays made sure that absolutely everyone would be familiar with Molly Rankin’s somehow energetic-yet-tired croon of “Hey, Hey! Marry me, Archie!”
The band also shot themselves in the foot by releasing that track because, as far as its commercial release and exposure were concerned, it overwhelmingly towered over virtually every other track on their debut record.
Enter Antisocialities, the little sophomore record that could.
The record’s second single, “Dreams Tonite,” immediately does away with any questions of stagnation on Alvvays’ part. The track’s sugary synth-pop is so sufficiently far-removed from the more earnest second-wave shoegaze pop of its predecessor, that it evades comparisons altogether. By changing lanes, Alvvays circumvents having to compete with “Marry Me, Archie” head-on.
This is the case throughout most of the record, as most of the content of its predecessor, bittersweet and unreservedly vulnerable, is replaced by an alternative preoccupied with appearing friendly, or approachable.
Even though “Hey” is a half-decent track by today’s standards, the about-face which it signifies is troublesome. While Alvvays hasn’t yet shown irreversible signs of trading in the quiet dissatisfaction that ran timidly through the background of their debut record for a plastic smile, this newer, friendlier version of Alvvays is troublesome.
These more cheerful tracks, plucked right out of a late-‘80s GAP Kids advert, are seemingly designed to garner mass appeal by eagerly (but not too eagerly, and despite a modicum of restraint) throwing themselves into the same canyon of escapist pop upon whose walls the mangled and broken corpse of the band that was once Metric now lies, wistfully humming 2012’s “Lost Kitten” to itself, as if Synthetica wasn’t already the first stage of failure for that band.
Alvvays stands at the edge of this precipice, and despite pitfalls like “Not My Baby” and “Hey,” manages to survive its proverbial brush with death, and walk away from the incident with some composure. This is due in large part to the tail-end of the record, which embraces the more grounded aspects of the band’s earlier material.
“Already Gone,” for instance, is a great example of how a pop ballad can balance shoegaze morals and radio-friendly delivery. “Saved by a Waif” also manages to put forward an energetic alternative to its monochromatic cousins (namely “Hey”).
Strangely, if one ignores the one-horse tracks on this record, those that seem to be the result of Alvvays phoning it in, Antisocialities reveals itself to be a reasonable step forward by the band, but one that leaves them standing on unsteady ground.