Rarely has an indie band happened across so much mainstream attention so early in their career as Wolf Alice. Although they themselves strive to stay away from such a label, the fact is that their rise to prominence in and around the time that their 2015 debut My Love Is Cool was released saw them rocket from starry-eyed newbies, whose 2014 Heaven set in London was their biggest to date, to veritable stage veterans – their first Pyramid set coming not even a year later at Glastonbury 2015. And while their stratospheric rise can account for one reason they’re often given the ‘indie’ tag, another reason has to be that their identity is otherwise nigh-on impossible to pin down. My Love Is Cool was the culmination of more than three years of work, and if the singles and EPs released in the build up to the album were the band spreading their wings in terms of their creative and musical prowess, then the album saw them take off. From the glittering and delicate ‘Turn To Dust’ to the ferocious ‘Fluffy’, their debut album marked them out as a group from whom the only thing that could be expected was the unexpected, and their identity since has thrived off this unpredictable ecclecticism.
It stands as testament to their talent then, that their sophomore effort Visions Of A Life has been one of the most hotly anticipated records of the year; Radio 1’s Annie Mac has been keeping a beady eye on its development, with each single getting coverage on her show after its release like clockwork, and NME has been helping to maintain the maelstrom of hype around the quartet throughout the year. Now that Visions Of A Life has hit the shelves, it’s clear indeed that neither the excitement around Wolf Alice nor Wolf Alice’s determination to be distinctive are going to slow down any time soon.
Opener ‘Heavenward’ bears a passing resemblance to My Love Is Cool‘s curtain-raiser ‘Turn To Dust’, with its alien guitar opening creating a starry reminiscence to the ethereal extreme of the band’s stylistic scale which its opposite number showcased so well last time out. This time around however, the delicacy is short lived, with thick, expansive guitar and bass taking over quickly. It’s an opener that simultaneously acknowledges old sounds and stylistic tendencies while at the same time promising to take things even further this time around.
They make good on that promise in the very next song: ‘Yuk Foo’ is as aggressive as its thinly disguised title would suggest, and sees Rowsell at her most gleefully vitriolic. She croons about having “feelings, ’cause I’m a human / a totally self-destructive, constantly consuming” while an acidic base-and-guitar combination provides brooding in the background. It’s a two minute, aggression-fuelled joy ride, and one of their most gloriously feral tracks to date.
While Wolf Alice have certainly pushed the boat out in terms of sonic experimentation, this effort also reveals some of Rowsell’s darkest, most personal lyrics to date. ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ wraps the anxiety-inducing feeling of nervous, unreciprocated love in the deceptively strawberry sweet package of fluctuating synth-pop; its chorus – “What if it’s not meant for me – love?” – providing an understandable overflow of emotion for Rowsell’s otherwise anxiously pent-up protagonist. Meanwhile, ‘Sky Musings’ is practically poetry, with Ellie’s hushed anxiousness telling the story of the existential dread we’re more liable to feel when “40,000 feet in the sky”. Rowsell’s final plea, “God? Is that you? …I could really use some help / Can you hear me?”, and her grim worries of “If we crash, if we crash, imagine that” paint the darkest picture on the record, and show Wolf Alice to be capable of pushing the envelope not only in terms of sound, but also lyrical content.
Elsewhere, ‘Space & Time’ and ‘Beautifully Unconventional’, ironically, see the band dipping their toes in the sizeable pool of more conventional indie-rock, and ‘St. Purple & Green’ provides the most overt reference to My Love Is Cool on the record, with fiddling guitars and Rowsell’s floating, harmonious vocals reminiscent of My Love Is Cool‘s ‘Freazy’, or even some of their earlier released EP tracks like ‘Heavenly Creatures’.
However, it’s the album’s eight minute closer that steals the show. A brooding, eastern-infused guitar line quickly builds, and paints a tapestry throughout the song, weaving and morphing continuously. It takes the band through almost every iteration they’ve ever shown us, with Rowsell wailing, Joff Oddie’s ghostly guitar screaming, and Joel Amey’s drums and Theo Ellis’ bass skittering one minute, and pounding the next. The track feels like the embodiment of everything the album is trying to accomplish, and makes sure it goes out on a high.
Overall, the album is a confident, impressive collection of songs from a band whose repertoire continues to grow, and whose confidence continues to be more and more impressive. While there may not be an overly cohesive feel to the record, and while some tracks may fall slightly flat, the most impressive thing about it is that Wolf Alice have clearly used it to prove categorically that they’re not resting on their laurels. Their early releases proved them to be out of the ordinary, and they’re taking that and running as far and as fast as they can with it. In an industry being flooded with like-for-like indie bands, that can only be admired.
Words by Ben Kitto