On Alvvays

It’s that time of year again when Best of 2014 lists pop up all over. After overindulging in a month-long musical smorgasbord of Christmas carols and holiday classics, revisiting some of the past year’s best releases offered a welcome change of pace. I’ve been pleasantly reminded of the year’s most unfairly forgotten albums, with Alvvays’ self-titled debut at the top of that list. Like a welcome day of sun-kissed summer air, Alvvays surprisingly and to much delight popped up on my radar again, audibly transporting me out of this December’s rain and drear.

Though Alvvays hails from Toronto, their sound blends polished, vintage southern California surf rock with modern low-fi, indie pop. Lead singer Molly Rankin’s brooding vocals drip with equal parts sincerity and disinterest, an endearing and enticing combination. The entire album is worth a thorough and uninterrupted listen to, the way they used to do in the old days. Here are just a few of my thoughts on my three favorite Alvvays tracks.

The album opens with “Adult Diversion,” a song you can’t help but imagine as score for a grainy home video depicting lazy summer day antics and grungy late night parties. I was delighted to discover that the group’s music video for this track encapsulated my vision exactly as, if not even better than, was pictured in my own imagination. But contrary to the carefree tone of “Adult Diversion,” the song’s lyrics express longing, insecurity, and even darkness: “If I should fall, act as though it never happened/I will retreat, and then go back to university/If I should fall, act as though it never happened/I will retreat and sit inside so very quietly.” This contrast, like that between Rankin’s dark vocals and Alvvays’ breezy instrumentation, is just the thing that keeps you coming back for more. 

From the first time I heard the single “Archie, Marry Me,” I was addicted to the sound. Alvvays perfects the indie pop hook on this track about desiring the rite of matrimony despite our most rational arguments against it. It’s a call to screw the man and buck convention in the very act of getting married. Maybe contrast doesn’t play such a big role in this tune but it still satisfies, begging to be heard and shared.

“Party Police” is a more subdued track in both lyric and sound. The song is a plea for keeping things simple, if not downright carnal, in spite of the confusion clouding the relationship between singer and subject. But Rankin doesn’t let the track end without tagging on the disclaimer “if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.” I love the rawness of this sentiment, how her insecurity is so honestly and frankly felt, even after suggesting to her lover/subject “we could find comfort in debauchery.”

I first fell for Alvvays during a rough summer, a season when I didn’t have the time or energy to feel the way this album made me want to feel (content, youthful, bold, free… the list goes on and on). But now, finally, as 2014 comes to a close, the lyrical accessibility, listen-ability, and optimism of Alvvays feels just right. Enjoy!

 

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On The Lumineers

At this point in time, it’s pretty hard to have avoided hearing The Lumineers’ debut single “Ho Hey” on radio airplay or as background music for a popular TV commercial for some product I have managed to forget. Their sound falls easily into a currently popular genre of polished indie folk alongside bands such as Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers. Though the band’s self-titled full length album is not as completely satisfying as the first single, there are moments of pure folk brilliance. It is these few songs, which will get your feet tapping and make your heart melt (at least a little bit), that have made this album a quick staple in my current CD rotation.

The opening notes of the Lumineers’ first tune, “Flowers in Your Hair,” instantly reminded me of Jeff Tweedy’s solo cover of an Uncle Tupelo tune  called “Wait Up” (listen here). Tweedy fan that I am, I was immediately hooked. As the Lumineers’ tune picks up, it becomes increasingly engaging and ultimately serves as a wise and satisfying choice for the album’s opening track.

 

The tune that I have found most irresistible is “Classy Girls,” a simple song about trying to steal a kiss from an alluringly elusive girl in a bar. The first few lines are reminiscent of a classic Irish folk ballad, just string and vocals over the quiet cacophony of a bustling pub. But the song transforms into a rousing melody as the lyrics narrate a particularly flirtatious game of hard to get. Maybe its the careful incorporation of background chatter or just the storyline of the song, but the most natural setting in which I can imagine enjoying “Classy Girls” is live in a comfortably crowded bar. I’ve been listening to this track nearly nonstop whenever I find myself in the car and it hasn’t gotten old yet.

 

And then there’s “Ho Hey,” another melodic love song that begs for a sing-along session. The chorus of voices that chime in on this tune make it an mid-tempo anthemic folk tune. The sentiment of the Lumineers’ first single is sincere and its simplicity matched by the effortlessness with which this one will get stuck in your head.

 

Though there are some songs that I routinely skip while listening to the album, there are just as many tunes that I know will become tried and true favorites of mine long after the Lumineers have expanded their catalog.

On GIVERS

I’ve been finding myself a little more optimistic about the state of music these days, probably in large part thanks to the band Givers. Their music is able to stay peppy and positive without sacrificing substance or artistic talent. Their percussion-driven tunes are highlighted by beautiful harmonies created through the fusion of two talented lead vocalists, one female and one male.

 

“In Light,” Givers’ debut album, is one that I can play all day as I drive around for work and never (at least not yet!) get bored with. And these danceable tunes are perfect for beating boredom when stuck in traffic or at a long stoplight.

 

Here are just a few of my favorite tunes from Givers. I highly recommend checking out their entire album because there really isn’t a single track on it that doesn’t deliver joyful and wonderful music!

 

“Up, Up, Up” is the opening track from “In Light” and it’s pretty unbeatable in the danceability department!

 

 

This live performance of “Atlantic” recorded during SXSW really sold me on this band. I found myself captivated by the variety of instruments (some traditional and others not-so-traditional) being utilized but even more so by the lead female vocals which are tinged with just the subtlest of rasps.

 

 

Though I genuinely enjoy the album versions of all Givers’ songs, I thought this SXSW session highlighted their talent and the simple beauty of their music so well that I couldn’t resist including this video of their single “Saw You First.”