Always interesting in its variety, and occasionally great in the execution. Wolf Alice are still the least settled British Indie Rock band.
We probably don’t give Wolf Alice enough credit for being consistently apparent on Radio 1 playlists. They’re not an easy group to categorise: too ominously moody for the Pop-Rock sold by The 1975, not always raucous enough for the nascent hardcore of Royal Blood crowds, and with surely broader influences than the pleasant power chord pummelling Indie of Catfish And The Bottlemen and Circa Waves. That Visions Of A Life is more experimental, and more varied than their debut is impressive. And if the sacrifice for that is losing the first album’s consistency and new music smell, it’s not a bad deal.
There’s an affinity for My Love Is Cool’s opening ‘Turn To Dust’ in ‘Heavenward’, but where the former downshifted into shoegaze from dreamy wah-wah chords, the latter uplifts wistful distortions to become a blissfully driven hymn. Even Joff Oddie’s bridge guitar solo, diffident of your attention, holds it elegantly through his improvisational melody. It’s a magical tune, like looking at an emo rock song through a kaleidoscope.
There are songs here that make up what appears to be Wolf Alice’s mission statement: to be both masters of disguise and the centre of attention. ‘Yuk Foo’ is a proto-feminist punk anthem that goes straight for the enemy’s scrotum. Ellie Rowsell’s delivery here mirrors the confrontational confidence of ‘You’re A Germ’ as well as the sense of humour – the bridge cathartically reminding us “Yeah I have feelings, ‘cause I’m a human/A totally self-destructive, constantly consuming/And now I’m fucked, and that fucks you too/So fuck the world, and you, and you and you and//You bore me!”. There’s even a degree of political awareness here that the band hadn’t previously shown. After all the last memorable usage of any derivative of “deplore” was its able implementation by Secretary Hillary Clinton.
At its best, Visions feels like an eager graduate’s overstuffed CV – “look upon my variety of talent, and despair!”. That’s not a criticism, it’s an observation. ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ = is a hypnotic synth narrative of adolescent yearning which might have been cut from I Like It When You Sleep…. There’s a stab at indie rock akin to Circa Waves and White Reaper in the relationship ultimatum of ‘Space & Time’. The funkily seductive ‘Formidable Cool’ mixes Morriconian Western threat with the confidence of a Soderbergh heist. It’s appropriate since its lyrics revel in the attractive facades worn by boys and girls, and the ugliness behind them: “you knew it was all an act/Then why are you crying?/What d’you think when you saw us?/Oh it might be fun/I believed what they told us/I believed in love”. And ‘Sky Musings’ is practically a piece of spoken word; a panic attack which unravels the narrator aboard a plane, until the pressure explodes into a plea to God, in which the synths and cymbals take hold of the melody.
But not all its differentiation efforts are additives. ‘St Purple & Green’ may begin with a choral religious calm, but it promptly breaks into the hardcore scene, then suddenly heads back to quiet, before ultimately dipping into psychedelia – blurring three songs, alike in restless rebellion, distinct in tones. ‘Planet Hunter’ is more focused, but it’s also less attention-grabbing; it’s the only time that Ellie’s vocal performance comes across as genuinely disinterested. There’s a peaceful, harp-centric take on the singer-songwriter style of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen with ‘After The Zero Hour’, a fable about a girl with a lust for life – “High on curiosity/High on power.” It’d be a surprising, and slight finale, except it precedes the band’s longest, hardest track. The album’s eponymous closer climaxes roughly nine times before it ends, exhausting both its impact and audience.
If this all sounds overly negative, it’s not meant to be. Visions Of A Life isn’t a “mixed” album, nor a dense one: it’s a busy, attention deficit album. Wolf Alice clearly love wearing different genre hats, regardless of fashion or function. That eccentricity, in all its mad scientist volatility, is on this sophomore record, and it’s an asset all on its own.
Visions Of A Life is released in the UK on 29th September 2017 via Dirty Hit.