ALBUM REVIEW: Alvvays, Antisocialites

If Alvvays’ eponymous first record articulated a quintessentially modern fear of commitment, then newly released follow-up Antisocialites captures the next logical step, which is an ambivalence about it.

The Toronto band gained momentum in 2014 with their self-titled debut, a nine-song batch of whimsical but sharp tracks that bemoaned romance as a twenty-something in the 2010’s, touching on all the hurdles we face from student loans to threatened personal ambition that comes with partnering up and settling down. In terms of lyricism, frontwoman Molly Rankin combined a wry sense of humor with the warmest sentiments to create songs that could tug on your heartstrings without making you roll your eyes, set against a backdrop of infectious dream pop. Antisocialites offers an aged version of this, matured by three years of life experience.

Lead single and first track “In Undertow” sets the tone for the record as older and more reserved. Frankly, this is a record about not giving a fuck anymore, or at least feigning that attitude. Rankin sings: “Can’t buy into astrology/Won’t rely on the moon for anything.” This is about guarding yourself with pragmatism, approaching life with the mindset of protecting yourself and your heart first before anything else. She lists off the things she does to fill the time now – “meditate, play solitaire, take up self defense” – literally all solitary activities, a means of reinforcing the wall you craft around yourself when something else falls apart.

Already, the sound on the record is dreamier and somehow more solemn than their scrappier, more guitar-driven songs like “Adult Diversion.” That vibe continues as the LP ventures into second track “Dreams Tonite,” alluding more to its slower, sadder tracks like “Red Planet” and “Party Police.” The record’s title is derived from its lyrics, again pointing back to the idea of closing oneself off to possibilities because the chance of gaining something is equal to or less than the fear of losing something greater. Rankin goes so far as to ask if she’s being naive, as if the idea of something working out it so unlikely that she’ll write it off as a failure before it even begins.

But while this guardedness can be dangerous in the sense of shutting oneself off to new possibilities, it can be a godsend in terms of self-sufficiency and demanding more. “Plimsoll Punks” retains the whimsy of the first record while drenching it in jadedness, a rejection of the type of people whose approval you used to crave. “Your Type” is about the refusal to put up with the sort of things you used to look past, about being so satisfied with your life as is that you won’t take someone else on just for the sake of someone else being there: “Let me state delicately that you’re an O and I’m an AB.”

This culminates on arguably the best track on the record, “Not My Baby,” in the sense that it balances the positive attitude towards newfound solitude with a heady dose of realism, the sadness of being alone when you know what it’s like not to be. It’s this track that’s most doused in ambivalence – “No need to sit at home with a dial tone ‘cause I don’t care” – while still retaining a level of melancholy and loss. It’s the relief of it all being over, with the maddening wish that it never had to be. Rankin’s mastery as a songwriter shines through here; it’s easy to slip into platitudes of independence and letting go. It’s harder to admit that while leaving the past in the past is oftentimes the best choice, we always find ourselves wishing that everything had met the lofty expectations once rested on it in the first place. In other words, to admit your disappointment while keeping your head held high, to trade in your “rose-colored shades for a wide lens” – this is invariably the stronger, more mature path to take once your path has diverged from another’s.

Alvvays tie the record up nicely with final track “Forget About Life,” circling back with lunar imagery to catch all the loose ends. Rankin sings of times “when the phases of the moon, they don’t apply / when accomplishing a simple task take several tries,” succinctly articulating her mixed bag of emotions. She can’t rely on the moon but is so tired she longs to have the matter taken out of her hands regardless. It’s worth noting that the titular character from “Archie, Marry Me” (or anyone else specific) is conspicuously absent on this second effort, as though it’s become too exhausting to name ex-lovers with anything more than an ambiguous “you.” It’s exhausting just to care that much.

All in all, Antisocialites is the a well-deserved follow-up to Alvvays. While their self-titled LP captured the white-knuckled grip of commitment, their most recent illustrates the mundane abyss that gapes at you in its absence.

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