By Emma Furrier
Third albums are notorious for allowing artists free range to explore and solidify themselves for who and what they are. After they shake off the nerves of a debut, and the pressure to prove themselves in a successful follow up album passes, the third go-around is almost always significantly less unsure and more true to the artist’s authentic self. In their third effort, ‘Blue Weekend’, indie-rockers Wolf Alice explore a new realm of rock, focused on plaintiful songwriting and anthemic-shoegaze tracks. In their most progressive, honest, and ambitious record yet, lead singer Ellie Rowsell penned each of the album's 11 tracks with an earnest approach that balances a range of emotions and complexities, all with a skillful and critical eye. Wolf Alice had established themselves as a big name in the indie world, with the success of their first two albums, accompanied by a string of shows as supporting acts for big names like Liam Gallagher, Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, and The 1975, and of course their own headlining gigs around the globe. With each tour, they proved themselves as one of the greatest, current live rock bands, garnering the praise of many industry professionals.
Having won the prestigious Mercy Prize for their sophomore album, ‘Visions of a Life’, the band set out to create a bigger and bolder record after spending their time exploring the range of their sound on this previous effort. One thing Wolf Alice has always excelled at, is dissecting the vast range of human emotion, in a prudent context that wears its heart on its sleeve and feels approachable by all walks of life. There is a keen awareness to their music, which continues to excel as they mature both in life and in their sound. Building off of the success of their first two LPs, ‘Blue Weekend’ creates a universe of its own full of eccentric personalities, heady nights on the town and stark self reflection. Ultimately it is acceptance of the good with the bad and embracing the present for what it is. They dream big, while not letting the payoffs of their success dictate who they are. Many of the tracks on this album revolve around the simple things in life, reflecting on quaint moments at the beach with friends and family, and the longing for a traditional happy ending. Themes of loss are explored frequently, without dwelling on any particular moody grievances. Even in the most heartbreaking tracks, Rowsell still approaches them with a sense of gratitude for having experienced such feelings at all. Lost love, lost sense of self, and feeling small in a large city like Los Angeles, all circle back to their humble beginnings in Camden, which they’ve proven formulate the heart and soul of the band. 'Blue Weekend' is accompanied by a visual album, where a music video has been created for each track and portrays a night on the town in London. This time around, the band have heavily focused on visuals and a cohesive aesthetic throughout. The album artwork, photographed by Jordan Hemingway, creates a daze of primary colors and a dreamy quality that perfectly suits the album. For Spotify users, there is a storyline with accompanying images for each track, reading like a script that plays along. Wolf Alice has ensured that no matter how you consume the album, via streaming platforms or a physical copy, you’re immersed in the world they’ve created, both sonically and visually. They’ve reached a new, creative peak that enables a variety of artforms to exist both independently and together.
Wolf Alice offers up their rougher, garage-rock ideations for slightly more transcendental and polished production value. The album is masterfully engineered and produced by Markus Dravs, a frequent collaborator of Florence and the Machine and Arcade Fire. Together, they haven't compromised their DIY integrity, no. Rather, they’ve proven their genius in the manner in which they’ve meticulously crafted and manipulated their sound. It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort, which has always been a requisite for the band. Each member is spotlighted in various moments throughout the album, taking turns to each have their moment to shine, as exemplified in the album’s first single, ‘The Last Man on Earth’. They are stronger than ever in their unity, and know their instruments better, as well. There is a clear sense of craftsmanship and synergy here that is clearer and more compelling than ever before. After ten years of being a band, it has been proven that they are masters of a fiery, electrifying chorus, the gungey, fuzzy riff, and revel in the dichotomy between a stark whisper and a rebel yell. The album is constantly shifting between each of these Wolf Alice essentials, yet it still holds a quality that is bigger and refreshing to their sound, as they explore new territories. In the opening track, ‘The Beach’ there is a sense of gentle familiarity, as the track eases into a repetitive sturm of guitar that steadily builds in rhythm, almost like a kickdrum, while Rowsell’s soft vocals carry you into the chorus with ease. They guide you into the album before a hymnal chorus of beautiful vocals crescendo and sets the mood for the lavishness and grandeur that the rest of the album holds. They let listeners know right off the bat that they are still the same Wolf Alice we know and love, yet they’re not willing to remain complacent. This opener is relatively short, clocking in at 2:35, serving more of a purpose as an opening credit, rather than a stand-alone track.
We seamlessly flow into the following track, ‘Delicious Things’ with an equally delicious kick of drums and change in tempo. Right from the start of this track, it exudes the essence of something entirely different from any other Wolf Alice song we’ve heard before. Layered vocals dance around in a choir of enchanting sound, before lulling to a stop when the pairing of drums and a wah-wah influenced electric guitar snap us out of our trance. Drummer Joel Amey excels on this track, creating a luscious pace that sets the groundwork for every other intricate component that comprises this stand-out track. There is a palpable energy and swagger, as Rowsell’s vocals nearly rap along to the beat in the most gracious way, and eventually pick back up into her harmonious, gravely cry. The basis of the song finds her lost in Los Angeles, exploring the Hollywood Hills. She finds herself in a similar scenario to many greats that came before her, although she doesn’t feel that Hollywood glamor as she stumbles into a bar and gets accosted by its sleaze. The track paints the perfect picture from this moment in Rowsell’s life, exploring her normality and distaste for grandeur in an ironic setting. Along with many of Blue Weekend’s tracks, it appears as a page ripped from her personal diary, but we’re all invited to read. It is humble and Rowsell is forthright in her honesty, singing, “I don't care, I'm in the Hollywood Hills/ I'm no longer pulling pints, I'm no longer cashing tills/ And I'm alive, I feel like Marilyn Monroe/ If you're all poppin' pills, you know I won't say no/ I won't say no, I'll give it a go/ I won't say no, I'll give it a/ Shot for the spot at the top/ A girl like me, would you believe I'm in Los Angeles?” Despite her claims, her mind is still elsewhere. As she reflects on her travels and missing home, coming down from the thrill of it all, she sings, “Extravagance disguised as elegance is boring/ I don't belong here, though it really is quite fun here/ "Hey, is Mum there? It's just me, I felt like calling". The plaintive lyricism here rivals the emotions in some of Wolf Alice’s best work, which has always hinged on their ability to capture Rowsell’s experiences and emotional complexity in a way that feels all-consuming and relatable. This track also proves the growth in her vocal range, exploring territories she has yet to venture into, up until the freedom she found in this album. Almost like a cathartic release, she freely transforms into a bolder frontwoman. In this one track, she shifts from tender sparsity in her tone, to the luxurious sonic opulence of layered cries.
Rowsell’s vocal delivery has significantly embarked on a journey of its own in the process of the album’s creation. While there are still tender, pentalive moments where we find her whispering her infamous, nearly poetic, breathy vocals into the mic, there are always moments where she soars in confidence and clarity, unlike ever before. She further plays around with what she can achieve in the third track, ‘Lipstick on the Glass’. The pre-chorus finds her in a near operatic state, her vocals soaring like an aria amongst a delicately layered instrumentation. It’s rich in composition, and impossible not to be captivated by in each of its manly layers. This track proves that the more you listen to it, the more layers you can peel away to reveal something unheard before. Once again, Rowsell’s lyricism balances between the fine line of poetry and memoir, in a heart-achingly beautiful way. The rawness of her vocals and lyrics contradict the lush production of the track, in a complex duality this album masters.
Contradicting the lavish, polished sounds heard up until this point, Wolf Alice drag us back into the mud with them on their fourth track and the second single, ‘Smile’. A gritty, 90s-grunge-influenced cut, we’re reminded of the band’s roots and earliest tracks, while still showcasing how much they’ve evolved since then. It slaps you in the face with its heavy, fuzzy baseline and steady percussion. This song screams self-assurance and IDGAF attitude, as Rowsell penned the track as a diss towards the plethora of sexist critics she’s faced the brunt of. “And now you all think I'm unhinged/ But wind it up and this honeybee stings/ Did you think I was a puppet on strings?/ Wind her up and this honeybee sings” she spits, before the chorus hits and revels in opulent vocals. It is a fun, tongue-in-cheek, feminist manifesto that truly shines in its unabashedness, and it will certainly be a staple-live track going forward.
‘Safe From Heartbreak (if you never fall in love)’ is a sweet little number, full of bright, plucked acoustic guitar and hymnal vocals similar to the ballads in their previous effort, Visions of a Life. Sonically, it is ethereal despite its subject matter which is anything but romantic. This is yet another track that proves how the band is focused on harmony and pristine melody more so than ever before. The 80s-tinged ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ is a catchy pop song, produced with a high attention to detail. Once again, Rowsell’s vocals soar in this track, proving that changing direction was on the forefront of their minds. It is ambitious and risky, but pays off as the track builds into an anthemic chorus that crowds will blissfully sing with no inhibitions, as intended. Keeping live music in mind, ‘All the Greatest Hits’ is another energetic, loud and brash track that demands your full attention. It is this album’s own ‘Yuk Foo’; is what it is, without trying to be anything more. Plus, we get to hear that iconic, nearly ear-piercing scream that begs listeners to join in. ‘Feeling Myself’ projects an even greater sense of exploration and confidence. It is the single “electronic” cut on the record, without being house enough to deter fans. There is a jazzy vocal delivery up until the chorus, where synth-driven-percussion and even an accompanying orchestral section merge together to create a, you guessed it, electronic burst of sound. If you did not think that Wolf Alice were unafraid of genre-meshing before, this track will certainly make that known. My favorite line on the album is nestled within one of the verses on this song, as Rowsell cheekily sings, “Keep my name on your lips, and let the double L feel like a kiss”. She has never been so poised and self-assured before, and it’s a wonderful new side to see.
The leading single off the album, ‘The Last Man On Earth’ was released in February to instantaneous praise and an uproar of hype for this new side to Wolf Alice. There is much to be said about the power of this track, which was penned by Rowsell after reading Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, and tells its own tale on the arrogance of humans, self doubt, and ultimately, rebirth. It is a sharp and critical assessment of humanity, disguised in a moving, rock ballad. Rowsell’s vocals soar throughout the chorus, but halfway through the track, the song takes a new direction as drummer Joel Amey, bassist Theo Ellis and guitarist Joff Oddie emerge from behind Rowsell’s shadow and send the track soaring to new heights. It’s an unexpected but necessary shift, as a vintage, psych-style guitar solo rips through the pristine piano, and a larger-than-life wall of sound erupts like a choir. It is the album, and the listener's, own moment of sonic climax. The track cocoons you in its warm embrace, before setting us free and allowing us to emerge from its chrysalis, newly transformed. That is the ultimate gripping power this song has, and Wolf Alice knows it. A modern day opus, it has transfixed listeners around the globe in a beautiful, inclusive way.
Coming down off the high of Last Man, ‘No Hard Feelings’ remains soft and easy, flowing gently in a serene melody. It is short and simplistic, consisting of just acoustic guitar and vocals, proving that less is more. While there are lavish moments throughout this album, Wolf Alice have always been self assured in the fact that they don’t need to overload you with complexities and over-produced sounds to create a full-sounding track. They truly are at their best in these softer, more intimate moments, having started off their career laced in folk-inspired songs. The last track, ‘The Beach II’ is a continuation of the opening track. The pair of songs keep the album together like musical bookends. It’s soft, yet still rumbles and sends us into a shoegaze-daze while it delivers Rowsell back to the beach where she started this whole journey, yet is now joined by her girlfriends and shrouded in pure happiness. After the rollercoaster of emotions, and the miles traveled throughout the expanse of this album, we are brought back to the simpler, everyday moments of life, and reminded of what matters most. “The tide comes in/ As it must go out/ Consistent like the laughter/ Of the girls on the beach/ My girls on the beach/Happy ever after” she sings, entrancing listeners into a dreamlike state that plants us beside her in the sand. As the track fades out, we are left to revel in the ebb and flow that this record has guided us throughout. It is highly emotive, intricate, and pure.
'Blue Weekend' has proven that Wolf Alice will not be placed in one box, and they certainly have a lot more to offer than what has been heard in the expanse of their 3 Eps and 3 LPs. They are not done experimenting and evolving, and this album exemplifies that while giving us an alluring promise of more to come. Bold and unapologetically themselves, there is a distinctive sense of everything clicking into place on this record. We still find them in the entanglement of folk, garage rock and shoegaze, although they have certainly left their comfort zone and traded in any industry-formulaic approach for steering deeper into the unfamiliar. Each and every track showcases the prominent sophistication and self awareness of Rowsell's writing and vocals, as well as the complexity of the band's sound. They were never lost in a search for their identity, but rather ambitious in exploring their options, and in 'Blue Weekend' they’ve finally found the perfect middleground.
If you'd like to listen to the album or keep up to date with the latest news from Wolf Alice's camp, you can find the links to all of the band's socials below via the icons: