In 2015, Wolf Alice were the year’s buzziest and fastest-rising band. They went from UK indie darlings to global stars in the blink of an eye, propelled by their debut album, My Love Is Cool. That LP populated dozens of “Best of” and “Favorite” lists, including our own. It was fierce and edgy, but it also surprised with unexpected pop hooks.
Their sophomore album, Visions of a Life, arrives today. They’ve released four songs so far that offered glimpses of the London quartet’s expansive talents, but what does the rest of the record hold? Do Wolf Alice take the safe road and share a LP that will accelerate their path to commercial success? Or do they forego the temptation of Top 40 fame in favor of perfecting their art and creating a memorable sonic experience? We share our First Impressions of one of 2017’s most anticipated albums.
Wolf Alice are Ellie Rowsell, Joff Oddie, Theo Ellis, and Joel Amey. They’re about to commence a massive tour, with dates listed here.
Wolf Alice’s debut impressed me from the moment I heard it. Follow-up records have a bit of a tendency to fall a bit short and fail to capture the magic of what drew people to strong debut records. However, Wolf Alice threw that out the window on Visions of a Life. It’s quite a different album from My Love Is Cool, and it’s awesome.
From the first two tracks, all expectations are shattered between the shoegazey opener “Heavenward” to the fuck-off rocker of “Yuck Foo”. The stark difference between the two tracks is just the beginning of the diversity of the record. There’s this great groove on “Beautifully Unconventional” with some really interesting vocals. Then there’s this sick, spoken-rap track over some huge synth on “Sky Musings”, which eventually sees the song completely engulfed by incredible, ethereal harmonies. There are some straight-forward rockers like “Space & Time” and beautiful tracks like “St. Purple & Green” and “After the Zero Hour”.
The whole record is almost a showcase for how talented Wolf Alice are. Ellie Roswell’s voice is front and center. It bounces seamlessly from shoegaze to vocally harsh rock songs, to even that little rap. It’s dreamy at times, other times it’s cursing someone out. No matter what, she hits hard. Add in the fact it’s backed by some incredible drumming and bass work, on tracks like “Formidable Cool”, and some wonderful guitar work, such as “Planet Cool”. When the album comes to a close with the epic title track, “Visions of a Life”, it ends on this huge trip. A huge trip!
Visions of a Life is a smorgasbord of bad assery. Plain and simple, Wolf Alice are letting everyone know they do not fit any mold and they will release whatever they damn well please. For some, this approach can backfire, and the result could be too fragmented and lack cohesion. While the diversity is huge on this album, each and every track is remarkably different, yet each time you listen you absolutely know it’s Wolf Alice.
“Heavenward” is an amazing shoegaze, heavy track that sets the stage for the album. As the songs progress there are outbursts of anger like on “Yuk Foo” and “Formidable Cool” along with real gems in “Planet Hunter” and “Space & Time”.
“Beautifully Unconventional” is also a great track, and it speaks to the individuality in others that need to be embraced. “Sky Musings” is a bit of a departure for the band, but it totally works and offers us a bit of insight into their creative capabilities. “Sadboy” is quite epic, and the last three tracks have collective somber tones that will get us through some upcoming dreary winter days.
Wolf Alice’s sophomore album further proves their expansive range and creative scope. They continue to push boundaries, and Visions of a Life validates them as one of indie’s biggest successes and stars.
Wolf Alice are probably sick of seeing the term “sophomore slump” bandied about since it’s obvious they have avoided that here. Every band’s worst nightmare is to fall short of expectations with their second offering. One sure-fire way to avoid that is to follow the approach Wolf Alice have taken on Visions of a Life: that is, to branch out. Sure, they could have delivered a sequel to My Love is Cool, and this would have pleased fans and maybe a few critics. They have chosen instead to showcase their talents with dynamic range.
The suspenseful first thirty seconds of the opener, “Heavenward”, offer no clue about what lies ahead in the album. Once Ellie starts singing, however, you are reminded of the power this band can produce. The instrumentation here is lush and complex while the vocals glide with restrained grace. It’s a wise choice as an opener since it sends chills down your spine. Those chills return many times, especially on “Planet Hunter”. Its reverb-drenched layers echo Slowdive while Ellie’s voice calls to mind ’80s legends Berlin as she says, “I left my mind behind in 2015”.
Fast-forward to the fierce rage on “Formidable Cool”, and you’ll be losing your mind. This is just one example of how Wolf Alice can offer a sly wink with one song then bear animalistic fangs with another. If there was ever a doubt that this band is unstoppable, Visions of a Life is proof to the contrary. This is a brilliant and powerful album.
Daring. Ambitious. Expansive. Masterful. There aren’t many superlatives that would accurately describe Visions of a Life, the merciless sophomore album by Wolf Alice. Merciless actually might be the best adjectives because for 47 minutes the quartet offers something new and different with every song. Bands this young and releasing their second album aren’t supposed to tackle numerous genres, but Wolf Alice do just that and nail each one.
Given their ambition, the best way to consider Visions of a Life is to think of it like a calendar year with four distinct seasons (fittingly, the LP has 12 songs). Spring is represented early with the album’s dazzling dreamgaze opener “Heavenward”, which is Slowdive-like in its execution. The melodic pop-rock “Planet Hunter” similarly possesses the feeling of renewal. Its most striking feature, however, is Elie Rowsell’s songwriting, as she offers a splendid fantasy tale that could be the sequel to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.
The ’70s/’80s pop ditty “Beautifully Unconventional” is the start of summer. Unlike many summer tunes, Wolf Alice celebrate those who choose to be different. Rowsell gracefully sings, “She’s beautifully unconventional. She seems to be from the best place in the world. Must be the best place in the world”. The album’s anthem arrives with the soaring love song, “Don’t Delete the Kisses”.
Autumn chills are revealed on the furious, post-punk rocker “Yuk Foo”. Rowsell unleashes her inner Patti Smith and curses at the person who has betrayed her. She hollers, “You bore me to death! No, I don’t give a shit!” The slow-building but intense “Formidable Cool” and the harrowing, spooky “Sad Boy” are hypnotic, delirious, and mind-blowing. They are perfect for the coming October days.
Not surprisingly, Visions of a Life‘s final three songs are winter. Like a mid-January day, “St. Purple and Green” is both stunning and hectic. Close your eyes and experience its sonic beauty. With “After the Zero Hour”, Wolf Alice deliver their biggest surprise – an intergalactic dream-folk dazzler that sees Rowsell’s vocals reach a heavenly pitch. It is the calm before the blizzard that arrives in the form of “Visions of a Life”. This drone, psychedelic epic echoes Black Mountain with its stormy peaks, calm valleys, and fantasy-like storytelling. It encapsulates the entire album – surprising, unpredictable, and brilliant. There’s no sophomore slump for this band. Instead, Visions of a Life cements Wolf Alice as THE band of their generation.
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