An album that is undeniably pretty, ominously dark, batshit insane and a hell of a lot of fun- all at the same time.
In an interview with NME earlier this year, Kasabian frontman Tom Meighan boldly claimed that, along with his band, Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines were all that remained from the previous era of British indie bands of the previous decade. With no legitimate heir to this “Great” British indie throne, Meighan declared that guitar music as a whole was “in the abyss”. Really? I’m sure a band like Wolf Alice would certainly disagree. In case you weren’t fully aware, Wolf Alice are a 4 piece band originating from Camden, who have enjoyed something of a meteoric rise in recent years- mostly due to their dazzling 2015 debut: My Love is Cool. Not only did this album showcase their refreshing sound, pooling influence from everywhere between the ethereal soundscapes of Cocteau Twins to the crunching 90s alt-rock of The Cranberries, it also served as a convictive statement from the band: Wolf Alice were headed straight to the top as one of the best bands in the country, on their own terms. In one sense, Meighan has every right to be afraid, a brief glance beyond the rose-tinted glasses would spell horror- as the wave of early-mid ’00s UK indie rock that Kasabian and their contemporaries led has now diluted to the point that mediocre bands are making a career from ripping off of what came directly before them (I’m not naming any names)- but to write off the entirety of guitar music as doomed to the “abyss” is nothing short of ridiculous. When you look beyond the mundane and unoriginal, there is a bounty of talented, innovative bands striving to push their genre further and further, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that Wolf Alice are leading the pack.
Fast forward some 2 years after an incredibly successful debut on both commercial and critical fronts (reaching number 2 in the UK album charts as well as picking up a Mercury Prize nomination), and anticipation was high to see how Wolf Alice would respond. Many UK bands of recent times could tell you of the curse of the “difficult second album” and how it meant their demise. It won’t take long into your first listen of Visions of a Life that this band have no fears of this curse whatsoever. The opener ‘Heavenward’ is something of a love letter to ’90s shoegaze artists like My Bloody Valentine, as frontman Ellie Rowsell almost whispers melodies across noisy, reverb-laden guitar chords. A few minutes later and this graceful moment of tranquillity is stamped out by the ferocity of the second track, ‘Yuk Foo’. As the spoonerism in the song title may suggest, this song is a swift middle finger to pretty much everyone, from romantic interests to the expectations placed on the band. These brash lyrics are perfectly spat out, as Rowsell’s whispers become maniacal shrieks. Pair them with a driving instrumental and this track remains as wildly entertaining as it was on the first listen. This sensational opening to Visions of a Life is continued with the next two songs: ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ is a snappy, straight forward indie rock toe-tapper followed by one of the highlights on the record, ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’. Ellie Rowsell spoke about the track, stating the band wanted to try “one of those, you know, ‘head-out-the window on a long drive’ kind of tunes”, and that’s definitely the feelings that this heavenly dream pop ballad captivates best. It’s very clear at this point in the album that Wolf Alice are still running with their ethos of eclecticism they carried from their debut, but the major difference is that everything has been cranked up to 11. Whether its Rowsell’s frenetic train of thought that can be heard on ‘Sky Musings’ or the deeply menacing bassline and guitar riff, courtesy of Theo Ellis and Joff Oddie respectively, found on ‘Formidable Cool’- this band’s idea of evolution lies simply in making things sound bigger and better- and by god, it’s working. The record reaches its climax with the title track- an almost 8 minute long behemoth which kicks off as a muddy, stoner rock jam. Momentum builds very quickly though, and by the 4th minute mark the band are back to going completely nuts. It’s like 3 different songs squeezed into 1, which makes a very apt end to an incredible album from a band who draw from a broad range of influences- but still manage to form a sound that’s completely unique.
Visions of a Life is an album that is undeniably pretty, ominously dark, batshit insane and a hell of a lot of fun- all at the same time. It’s yet another coming of age moment for Wolf Alice, as this album has proved that they are one of the most talented bands in the UK, and possibly one of the biggest (they’re currently battling Shania Twain for the number 1 spot in the UK Album Charts, and even Jeremy Corbyn has tipped the Camden quartet for the win). Whilst the old guard may fret about guitar music fading into obscurity, it’s the bright, young upstarts that are flying the flag and moving forward. I mean, isn’t that how it’s always been?