Alvvays channeled the bane of youth on their self-titled 2014 debut. “Too late to go out/Too young to stay in,” singer/guitarist Molly Rankin bemoaned on “Archie, Marry Me,” cementing herself as the voice for preoccupied twenty-somethings who feel like the first generation to experience quarter-life-crises all on their own. Three years later, Alvvays’s newest release Antisocialites sees Rankin and company still feeling preoccupied, but this time, the crossroads between commitment and abandonment, nostalgia and uncertainty are textually more defined and far more intimate as Rankin catalogues broken promises and painful choices.
Much of Antisocialites is engaged in a larger struggle to pin down what, exactly, happiness is—at least for now, at a point in life when true adulthood starts to meet reality and aging suddenly becomes a creeping thought, consciously or not. Sometimes Rankin looks for contentedness in simple routines. “Meditate, play solitaire, take up self defense,” she sings on lead single “In Undertow.” These small acts of control help stave off the dread of growing old, or just growing up in general, but not for long as Rankin asks in the very next line, “When you get old and faded out will you want your friends?”
Other times, Rankin wonders if lovers might ease some of this anxiety, mostly finding that they just add to it. On the punchy and distorted “Your Type” she laments a crush that leaves her feeling lonely, “I die on the inside every time/You will never be all right/I will never be your type.” Songs like “In Undertow” and “Your Type” are as much homages to 60s romances as they are send-ups to the submission and loneliness that underlies many hits within that era of early bubblegum pop. But Alvvays is able to place that feeling in the present. “I can’t buy-in to psychology/And won’t rely on your mood for anything,” Rankin coos before the chorus of “In Undertow,” highlighting her ability to tap into the frustration of love at a time when there are myriad ways to “know” how someone feels, most of which seem like open-ended pseudoscience.
Musically, you’ll find Antisocialites highlights Rankin and lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley’s ability to write using musical cues beyond vaguely alluding to their influences here-and-there. Rankin takes on the indignantly cool attitude that plagues indie music on “Plimsoll Punks” singing, “Your postures blocking out any possible light/I can hardly see … You’re the seashell in my sandal/That’s slicing up my heel.” Over this, O’Hanley’s standout guitar work plays with song structure, calling and responding by inverting earlier musical motifs in the song as the second chorus comes along. It’s cheeky, and you can feel the “See what I did there?” moment coming from O’Hanley, but it adds to the playfulness of Antisocialites, which feels like such a rare quality beyond just indie rock when its pulled of as expertly as it is here.
Ultimately, Antisocialites is for anyone who knows the power struggle between what we feel and what we want to feel. Rankin plays it like she’s losing this game for much of the album, but she knows better than to leave the listener so low. In the album’s finale “Forget About Life” she calls a truce with her bleak outlook on relationships and adulthood. Letting out a gentle, but nonetheless celebratory “woo” she asks, “Underneath this flickering light/Did you wanna forget about life with me tonight?” It’s a complicated question for a complicated relationship, but Rankin knows it’s at least possible.