Upon its emergence in 2015, Wolf Alice’s Mercury Prize nominated debut album My Love Is Cool signified the formal arrival of a refreshing, invigorated sound from the London bred band. Remarkably adept at crafting shimmering, melodic tunes like “Bros,” “Freazy”, and “Moaning Lisa Smile,” the quartet comprised of Ellie Rowsell (vocals, guitar), Joff Oddie (guitars, vocals), Theo Ellis (bass), and Joel Amey (drums, vocals) cultivated a distinctively modern and varied sound on their inaugural LP, while simultaneously harking back to the shoegaze, dream-pop and Brit-rock movements spawned in the ‘90s.
Produced by the revered musician-producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen—he of the golden resume that includes working with Tori Amos, Beck, Nine Inch Nails, M83, and The Raveonettes, among many others—Wolf Alice’s sophomore set Visions of a Life is a noticeably bolder, brasher affair, but with their signature disregard for stylistic conformity fully intact. A marvelous mélange of styles, sounds and inspirations that seem incongruous in theory, Visions proves an even more rewarding effort than its precursor, largely due to the maturation of the group’s ensemble musicianship and Rowsell’s markedly more confessional lyricism.
Thematically, the bulk of the album examines the inescapable, angst-ridden creep toward full-fledged adulthood, as one attempts to milk the remaining exuberance and freedom of his or her twenties. In the case of Wolf Alice, here they’re mostly consumed with taking stock of their lives so far, lives recently and fundamentally altered by fame and acclaim, while they steal a few moments to envisage what may lie ahead. “It’s this age,” Rowsell recently confided to Q Magazine. “People go through breakups in their early twenties because you’re changing and you can’t keep up with another person. These feelings would probably happen anyway, regardless of coming in and out of a relationship. Like, ‘I’ve got to cling on to being young and having fun, and getting as many experiences as I can. What am I going to think and write about when I’m older if this is supposed to be the funnest time of my life?”
Rowsell’s sentiments about the fleeting, fickle nature of young romance are most profoundly captured on the introspective, largely spoken-word driven second single “Don’t Delete the Kisses.” Vocally reminiscent of the “And you love the game” refrain in Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” an apprehensive Rowsell chants “What if it's not meant for me? / Love” in the song’s chorus, as she challenges whether long-term, lifelong commitment is in the cards for her.
The full-out rock assault of lead single “Yuk Foo” finds a flame-mouthed, filter-free Rowsell flinging a fiery “fuck you” to no one in particular, with abrasive lines like, “I wanna fuck all the people I meet / Fuck all my friends and all the people in the street.” “I must have had so much rage inside me, and it just came out,” she confided to The Fader a few months ago. “I’d just read that book, [Michael Azerrad’s] Our Band Could Be Your Life, about American hardcore, and I really wanted to make a three-minute, angry song. A lot of it is about expectations of me—as someone’s girlfriend, as someone’s friend, as someone in a band, as someone with a platform, as a woman."
Refreshingly, the acutely self-aware Rowsell and crew seem to embody Henry David Thoreau’s famous declaration in his 1854 memoir Walden of striving “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” Atop the shimmering, sublime guitar-pop sheen of “Planet Hunter,” Rowsell delivers her ode to the joie de vivre of youth and its incessant state of flux between “A moment’s happiness / A moment’s madness.” “I hope that when I look back I will laugh,” Rowsell declares on the rocking, wistful “Space & Time,” as she imagines how her younger days might appear to her when she’s older. Arguably the supreme standout on the album, the acoustic “After the Zero Hour” is Rowsell’s beautifully plaintive, carpe diem themed rumination about harnessing her “lust for life, eyes straight ahead and open wide.”
Other highlights include the angelic, soaring album opener “Heavenward,” a eulogy to a friend of the band who passed away. The buoyant “Beautifully Unconventional” draws inspiration from the beloved 1988 film Heathers, framed from the perspective of J.D. (Christian Slater’s character), as he observes Veronica (Winona Ryder): “You’re a walking contradiction / Cute with such conviction / But dark as the Devil who walks / And as loyal as a stalker who stalks.” Also of note are “Sky Musings,” Rowsell’s disconcerting, heart-pounding confessional whilst being airborne, 30,000+ feet high in the sky, and the shapeshifting dirge “St. Purple & Green,” a moving dedication to her grandmother.
Wolf Alice is a young band arguably still years away from the peak of their musical powers. Fittingly then, across Visions of a Life they spend less time trying to reconcile what the future holds—typically an exercise in futility—and exert more energy in simply seizing their moment, reveling in the present, and crafting songs of the most stirring caliber.
Notable Tracks: “After the Zero Hour” | “Don’t Delete the Kisses” | “Heavenward” | “Planet Hunter”