London four piece Wolf Alice have managed to convince the electronic and pop-loving mainstream that rock is cool again. They’ve also just earned themselves the number two spot on the UK album chart with their new release Visions of a Life – beaten to the top by none other than Shania Twain. Their reincarnation of grunge-pop is floaty at times yet distorted at others and carries through from their first album My Love Is Cool, released in 2015. Their debut was a welcome fresh expression of grunge rock, showcasing an act that could thrash out loud, high energy and electric guitar-fuelled numbers, followed with delicate, folksy tracks all in one.
Having won several hard-hitting awards such as NME’s Best Track and Best Live Performance with their debut (and a Grammy nomination to boot), the anticipation for a second album grew as they toured extensively in the UK and Europe. But hype or no hype, the grunge act have delivered a second album that has undoubtedly bypassed the sophomore slump.
Where My Love Is Cool delivered hits such as ‘Bros’ and ‘Giant Peach’, Visions of a Life too has a number of stand-out tracks, firmly nestled amongst a listing of songs that complement, creating a concisely thought out album. Two tracks in, and Wolf Alice have gently swept me off my feet and subsequently hurled me back to the ground with dreamy opener ‘Heavenward’ followed by ‘Yuk Foo’, one of the grungier pieces of the album.
These two lead into a personal favourite, ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ a sunny, upbeat song reminiscent of ‘Freazy’ from their debut, in both tone and tempo. It opens with Brit-Pop esque choppy guitar, played to a syncopated rhythm. This is soon joined by the band’s lead, Ellie Rowsell on vocals, and a busy but non-interfering bass. The melody is poppy, yet builds to a heavier bridge, with guitar becoming more obvious as well as a heavier presence of percussion. The chorus follows and Rowsell belts the words ‘Hannah! She lives! She breathes! She’s beautifully unconventional’ where the guitar mimics vocals in melody and the syncopated rhythm persists. As the song progresses, it becomes increasingly ethereal in nature, with a strummed harp, ringing guitar, and Rowsell’s voice sounding as if to be drifting off, all before being abruptly reeled in with the same choppy guitar chords used to open the song.
‘Formidable Cool’ is another gem on the album, launching with a guitar line that is melodic, repetitive and rhythmic. ‘He’s got you on your knees, with that formidable cool’, Rowsell begins by half-speaking, half-whispering the vocals, a skill that has proven especially effective in her musical arsenal. What results is an explosive ending, the initially soft and bouncy drums become crashing, the guitar is heavier with the bass more apparent as Rowsell gradually switches from whispering to shouting.
Visions of a Life is proof that Wolf Alice are capable of melding the genres of grunge, pop and folk together to sound fresh and unique. It is an extension as such of My Love Is Cool, as there are moments and songs on each that seem to correspond, for example ‘Sadboy’ of Visions of a Life and ‘Lisbon’ from their first release. Similarly, ‘Formidable Cool’ and ‘You’re a Germ’. This album however, shows progression in the group’s music and songwriting too. With more embellished arrangements and a general air of industry know how, Wolf Alice have succeeded creating a second album like their first, but better.