Sometimes an artist nails the sound of a moment or a track embodies a sweeping trend, and these artists and songs find their place in history as "sounds-of." Wolf Alice's second LP, Visions of a Life, captures the heart of all of rock and roll in the 2000s, '10s and maybe beyond. You have to hear this.
It's all there, from the breezy, tone-setting opening, "Heavenward," to the incredible, shape-shifting title track/closer. The band rips through the sharp riffs of "Yuk Foo" and "Formidable Cool," delivers crisp hooks in "Beautifully Unconventional" and "Space & Time," crafts warm, weightless melodies in "Don't Delete the Kisses" and "After the Zero Hour." This is an album of balance that doesn't sacrifice energy or exploration. Somehow, the band has put together a painting of the modern rock scene where it's all on the same canvas, happening at the same time.
The (deserved) success of "Don't Delete the Kisses" as an early single was an excellent trick, a tease that might have fooled you into expecting an album of minimalism, echoes and like sounds. And if you'd heard "Yuk Foo" when it appeared as the first single, the shock was even greater. Album opener "Heavenward," on the other hand, is a song full of music, brimming with it, opening the curtains to an album that plays like scenes on a stage. The drama is there, and the conflict, the desire, the comedy and the action. "Heavenward," with its swells of harmony and quiet verses, envelopes you in the warm mood of the song—a disarming lull before the violence.
The band's punk roots rip through in "Yuk Foo," a raging guitar track with cathartic screams and a masterful overload of sounds. Joel Amey's frenetic drumming and Ellie Rowsell's fierce singing—"You bore me to death / No I don't give a sh*t!—cap a song of fearless energy. The soundwall builds and builds until it cuts out to leave only Rowsell's hoarse scream to close the song.
"Planet Hunter" and "Sky Musings" work as a two-part rocket launch. The first builds and swells until its superheavy finale riff drives it through the atmosphere and into the quiet second-stage, now whispering, face to face with the sublimity, the consequences, the danger. "If we crash, if we crash, imagine that," sings Rowsell. The stakes are suddenly higher than ever and her lyrics become frantic.
From "Formidable Cool" to "Space & Time," another story: mistake and redemption, pain and healing. "Hope my body gets better," Rowsell sings, "Do I mean my body or my mind?" The songs of Visions of a Life wrestle with feelings and questions and they do it with intensity. Rowsell, with her cofounder and guitarist, Joff Oddie, drummer, Joel Amey and bassist, Theo Ellis, attacks these beautifully written songs as if she won't be satisfied with anything less than all of the answers.
"Sadboy," "St. Purple & Green" and "After the Zero Hour" take stock of the narrative so far. These are expert songs. The sudden beauty of "After the Zero Hour" is like the echo of tragedy, when the future peeks through the shadow of hopelessness.
And then, Wolf Alice arrive at the finale: a title track that's massive and thrilling and cathartic and triumphant. Just shy of eight minutes, it's an epic piece worthy of Zeppelin with the polished heaviness of Queens of the Stone Age. The riffs are monstrous, the vocals are soaring and the movement of the song is as dramatic as a symphony. In the middle of the song, in one of the most beautiful melodies on the album, Rowsell sings her victory: "I heard that journeys end in lovers' meetings but my journey ends when my heart stops beating, I'm leaving!"
Wolf Alice are touring the Europe and Asia through November before landing in Brooklyn to play Brooklyn Steel on December 4. They'll only play five U.S. cities before heading back to Europe, so click here to see the full tour and buy tickets on their website. In a few years might be saying, "I saw the biggest rock band in the world."
Listen to Visions of a Life on Apple Music and Spotify.
Tom Twardzik is a writer covering music, film, TV and gaming for Popdust. He also contributes travel writing to Journiest and financial tips to Paypath. Read more on his page and follow on Twitter.
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