There’s a song on Blue Rev, the monumental current album from indie pop band Alvvays, that’s named for the late Tom Verlaine. Verlaine also had a song called “Always,” but more on that parallel in a second. The first time lead singer Molly Rankin heard the Television frontman, with his singular swagger on the guitar, was probably back in Prince Edward Island, where she lived in her outfit’s early days.
“To hear guitar that way was really eye opening,” Rankin tells the Straight. “And even Tom’s vocals, I think, maybe get a bit overlooked. The whole thing is a really timeless combination, and still exciting and relevant to me.”
In “Tom Verlaine,” Rankin channeled the art-punk icon’s disaffected image (“I think of him as sort of a classic, fashionable, chic person who is a face of the scene in New York”) when thinking about the subject of the narrator’s conflicted love. Over textures of surging melodic noise, he materializes in the final lines, as Rankin’s tone ripples: “You were my Tom Verlaine, just sitting on the hood.”
There are many other cultural- and nostalgia-tinged reference points on Blue Rev. The album’s title itself is a nod to the sugary vodka cooler Rankin and keyboardist Kerri MacLellan drank as teenagers in Cape Breton. Another is “Belinda Says,” which name-checks Belinda Carlisle’s signature pop epic “Heaven is a Place on Earth”: “Belinda says that heaven is a place on earth,” Rankin lilts. “Well, so is hell.” Like on “Tom Verlaine” with the “Always”/Alvvays connection, these shout-outs are interpolated into poignant lyrics that wrestle with the emotional weight of how life’s small moments are often the ones that hit us the hardest.
“The way that I have always approached lyrics—and Alec [O’Hanley, guitarist], too—is just to have fun and think about little cultural references that can be sprinkled in here and there: little Easter eggs and puzzles,” Rankin explains.
“The idea of ‘Belinda,’ I mean, the [‘Heaven’] song blasting through a car stereo felt really cathartic to me, as someone who was exiting a really volatile situation and escaping into this new terrifying world of freedom and sort of envisioning the people that sing to the radio as a companion. That, to me, felt really meaningful at the time. And, of course, that song is such an anthem.”
Similarly, Alvvays has always maintained a clear vision when it comes to building soundscapes. The band’s meticulousness is well-known. The quintet has tweaked and refined its sonic alchemy—rooted in an affinity for creative approaches to loud guitar—since its 2014 self-titled debut. Alvvays’ sophomore effort, 2017’s Antisocialites, brimmed with fuzzed-out riffs and dreamy melancholy. Blue Rev takes things further, as Alvvays—true masters of its craft—crank up the noise and distortion to flood into the screaming edges of shoegaze, all while layering in those devastatingly beautiful melodies.
“A lot of the evolution, I think, was very natural,” Rankin notes. “It’s not something that we planned or orchestrated, it’s just how our influences, the things that we listen to every day, however that subconsciously shaped the things that we were trying to make.”
While Antisocialites positioned Alvvays as indie rock heroes for a new generation, with Blue Rev the group’s members have created something altogether more vital. It’s not just the global acclaim the album’s received, how it’s been universally named one of 2022’s best records, how it’s been hailed as a defining entry in the band’s catalogue, or even how it has created a new frontier for the genre at large. Blue Rev is one of those staggering albums that can shift the orbit of your entire world.
As the band has toured through the U.K. and U.S., ahead of its upcoming leg across Canada this month, “it’s been really exciting to see the way that people have already latched onto little lyrics and guitar lines,” Rankin says.
“If there’s one thing that I definitely try to do when I’m building songs is just to make sure that I believe what I’m singing,” she adds, noting that her other main objective is to write melodies that move her, structuring them in lifts and falls that hopefully also stir something in the listener. She wants to leave an impression.
“I don’t know,” Rankin muses. “It’s almost like if you have all of those things in those moments, then the presentation is less important as well—even though we’re very fussy about all of that stuff. But yeah. If I believe the things that I’m singing, I feel like it resonates more with others.”
Alvvays plays the Commodore Ballroom on March 16 and 17.