Wolf Alice are probably the most important band of their generation.
Label: Dirty Hit
Released: 29th September 2017
To break through the barriers, every reaction needs a catalyst. While that may be a slightly mangled metaphor, when it comes to music scenes, it has a grain of truth. No matter how much exciting stuff bubbles beneath the surface, there’s always a point where one band has to break through in order to give the others confidence that actually, anything is possible.
That was Wolf Alice’s role on their debut album ‘My Love Is Cool’. While peers had seen success around them - from The 1975’s fangasm provoking self-titled full length to the lesser victories of Peace, Swim Deep, Palma Violets and co - it was their narrow miss on a Number One album that really set the wheels in motion. Only losing out due to Florence’s last-minute Glastonbury headline appearance, Wolf Alice always were the glue that held a multitude of bands together. Carrying their otherworldly buzz easier than most, they were a band in the best sense of the world - each with their own personality bringing something unique to a living, breathing machine. A band’s band, a lightning rod for the creative energy swarming around them, when they made it big, everyone else saw the way.
Since then, the UK underground has blossomed. Bands that were making their earliest steps back in 2015 - Black Honey, The Magic Gang, The Big Moon and more - have sprung forward with the confidence that this world can be theirs. Others - Dream Wife, King Nun, Pale Waves - have appeared, eyes blinking into a post-Wolf Alice world - one where, for the first time in years, being a guitar band wasn’t seen as raging against the dying light. Excitement, energy, having something to say - all things that started to work again. Youthful rebellion hung heavy in the air. To say all of this was down to one band would be folly, but it was Wolf Alice who struck that first killer blow.
And so, two years on, they’re back. Still the most convincing light to lead their tribe, there’s a degree of pressure. If the mighty Wolf Alice were to fall, what would that mean for the rest? But nobody - not even the band themselves - seem to think there’s much chance of that. What they built first time around wasn’t made of faddy trends or paper thin intent. They’ve always been a band of steady hand and sure mind, creating their own world around them. With ‘Visions of a Life’, they’ve expanded into the universe beyond.
In many ways, it’s an album that could only be Wolf Alice - and yet at times it still has the ability to shock. While the first two tracks to see the light of day from the record - the inflammatory, spitting fury of ‘Yuk Foo’ and the woozy, punch drunk stream of consciousness ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ - may sit at opposite ends of the spectrum, in between there are moments that prove that this is a band still refusing to pick a single cookie cutter outline.
‘Beautifully Unconventional’, for example, does exactly what it says on the tin. A strutting, retro, almost cinematic left turn - it’s not that it pushes boundaries, so much as the kind of move that’s previously not seemed part of the Wolf Alice lexicon. And yet, by the halfway mark, it’s definitely them - Ellie Rowsell’s trademark melodic stamp firmly placed.
It’s the kind of creative evolution which runs through ‘Visions of a Life’. While ‘My Love Is Cool’ was populated by songs that had bedded in over a couple of years of slow building hype, this time round Wolf Alice are bringing a record at us completely cold. There’s no safety in the riffs of ‘Giant Beach’ or the heart-tugging brilliance of ‘Bros’. Rather than repeat what’s gone before, they’ve tried new ideas. There are choruses, but at no point do they feel like a band tied down to structure. The rulebook isn’t shredded, but it’s certainly laying in a corner, watched with a look of barely concealed contempt. For most bands, it wouldn’t work. For Wolf Alice, it really, really does.
By freeing themselves from the shackles of expectation, their particular talent for weaving wonder takes hold. ‘St. Purple & Green’ almost audibly winds its way through four and a half minutes of wide-eyed fascination, twinkling, sweeping and swaying from front to back. By the time Rowsell’s spoken word refrain hits, its hypnotic trance is unbreakable. The folky, ethereal ‘After The Zero Hour’ sparkles with magical dust, while ‘Sky Musings’ builds with a glimmering, diamond clear sheen.
There’s the odd moment where Wolf Alice prove they can still hammer those more base instincts - the final 40 seconds of ‘Space & Time’ offer up an indie romp that The Vaccines have spent years trying to perfect, but it’s done with such flippant ease that, for them, it’s no big deal. It’s the textured groove and siren call of ‘Sadboy’ that follows which represents Wolf Alice 2.0 - a fresh iteration running on a whole new level.
Because true leaders don’t just blindly charge forth. Wolf Alice have shown their peers how to run free - but as the pack follows them through the hole they blasted in the mainstream consciousness two and a bit years ago, they’ve no intention of thundering towards the slings and arrows that await. They’re smarter than that. With ‘Visions of a Life’, Wolf Alice have taken flight. As the world beneath them shrinks to tiny, insignificant dots on the horizon, watch them soar. Yet again, they’re showing us the way. Stephen Ackroyd