Welcome to Beandon’s Musical Corner, the only place on campus for in-depth, exhaustive reviews of the latest releases in rock, jazz, experimental…and pretty much everything else. Brandon Rupp (also known by his mononymous musical title “beandon,” under which he releases music and DJs as KZSU’s Student Music Director) explores a new title and gives unfiltered feedback, regardless of the genre. Feel free to send him music; he’d love to take a look!
When I first conceived the idea for this column in 2021, I had no idea that every review would end up being a positive one. That year certainly had its fair share of impactful albums, but I never expected to hear the sheer range of quality that I have with the releases of 2022. There are simply too many fantastic records for me to get bogged down in the mediocre ones! Originally, I had decided to focus this week’s column on an album that was simply “good” or “average.”
Then came Alvvays’ new record, and my promise broke once more. I’ll be blunt: the lush “Blue Rev” by Alvvays is not only the pop album of the year but also a year-defining (and band-defining) record. It is simply stunning on every possible technical, emotional and artistic level.
As an Alvvays fan since “Archie, Marry Me” became a sleeper hit on Internet music forums, I had no idea what to expect after the five year gap between this record and 2017’s fantastic “Antisocialites.” Little did the public know, the band had been working diligently on a new record ever since the release of “Antisocialites” — only to run into a number of devastating setbacks. Between a “watchful thief” that stole singer Molly Rankin’s demos, “a basement flood that nearly ruined all the band’s gear” the very next day, the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of their original rhythm section, the band was essentially trapped by a series of unfortunate circumstances far out of their control.
However, on July 6, 2022, Alvvays ended their radio silence with the surprise drop of “Pharmacy,” a roaring shoegaze track with loud guitars, punchy drums and an absolutely killer melody.
It was a pretty jarring lead single, but in a way that signaled something special was coming. Even the lyrics are a bit quirky, describing a narrator’s emotional spiral after innocuously running into a love interest’s sister at the pharmacy. With each successive single, the band continued to raise expectations higher and higher: there’s no way the entire album is this good, right?
I’m happy to announce that, from front to back, there’s not a single dud here. Every song is a two to three minute pop gem à la Robert Pollard’s best work. Quite a few songs on the album make the list of the top ten songs this band has written. In fact, the beautiful key-change-ridden “Belinda Says” might be their best song to date.
Other songs see the band hopping into familiar modes to great effect. For example, “Pressed” borrows from the Smiths’ songbook, with a highly melodic guitar line, a bouncy rhythm section and whimsical vocals. The fantastic “Lottery Noises” is akin to a slowed-down Teenage Fanclub song, with catchy guitars and vocal interplay paired alongside a simple, infectious refrain.
Then there are songs like “Pomerianian Spinster,” which almost defies categorization. The song is cartoonish with its jaunty, messy guitar line juxtaposing one of the most searing sets of lyrics on the record. It’s all of the energy and delivery of punk mixed with the elastic composition of an Ariel Pink or R. Stevie Moore track.
Speaking of hypnagogic pop artists, Alvvays test out the genre for themselves with the satirical “Very Online Guy,” a track that somehow evades all clichés you would expect from a track with that name. The production is glitchy and layered, with vocals coming in and out of the mix after being chopped up, pitch shifted, reversed and just generally messed up. It’s stunning in a bizarre way (and vice versa).
The band even puts forward a definitive mission statement with “Easy on Your Own?” From the opening lines of “I dropped out / college education’s a dull knife / if you don’t believe in the lettered life / then maybe this is our only try” to the sly chorus of “‘cause we’re alvvays / crawling in monochromatic hallways / dream we pull a one-eighty some day,” the piece essentially doubles as a history of the band and their progression to stardom.
This trend of an intelligent, compact and well-written pop tune carries for all 39 minutes of “Blue Rev.” It’s impossible for me to include all of the highlights from this album, as I still have many more I haven’t mentioned.
For example, there’s the heartfelt “Tom Verlaine,” named after the brilliant singer and guitarist of Television, the guitar-heavy “After the Earthquake” (which is quite simply one of their finest compositions) and Molly’s overall upgraded vocal performance on this album. The latter is especially clear on the soaring, Take-On-Me-esque end of “Velveteen” or the heart-breaking note held at the end of “Lottery Noises.”
I must emphasize that if you are, at all, a fan of the intricacies of pop music writing — from well-placed pre-choruses and clever turns of phrase to transcendent key changes or stadium melodies so massive that they get stuck in your head for days — this will likely also be one of your favorites of the year. Alvvays knocked this one out of the park, and I can only wonder where they go next.
I’m so awestruck that I don’t even have a witty way to end this review, and I Alvvays think of a witty ending! Oops.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.