Album of the Week: Wolf Alice, 'Visions of a Life'

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Wolf Alice, 'Visions of a Life'
Wolf Alice, 'Visions of a Life' (Courtesy of artist)
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Sophomore releases can be hard on bands, there's a reason that the cliche "sophomore slump" exists. Pressure must be especially high after coming off a much loved and critically buzzed debut like Wolf Alice's My Love is Cool. Wolf Alice faces the pressure with an aggressive ferocity showing off their sonic range and dig into darker topics with their second album, Visions of a Life.

This is not a meek album. It leans into everything: the guitars are full of fuzz - muddy, heavy and dark; the drums are beaten to a bloody pulp and then delicately massaged back to life. Hell, there's even a triangle in the mix. You may hear a little M83, School of Seven Bells, Tori Amos, or even Mars Volta in the production of Visions of a Life. The fuzzy, hyper-hypnotism of the swirling guitars creates a concrete space and time that feels familiar. Enter producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen who has, unsurprisingly, produced Paramore, Garbage, Tori Amos, Mars Volta, M83, and Beck (including one of my personal all-time favorites "Debra"). He is a master of taking the sonic palate of whomever he's working with to a fuzzed out muddy place.

And in Visions of a Life this is a dark, dank, and muddy world. A shroud of death hangs over everything like carrion just out of sight. A variation of death/die/dead appears 21 times in the album's lyrics (and that doesn't include the 2 songs about actual people who have passed away "Heavenward" and "St. Purple and Green," and a song that talks about riding in a plane that may crash and literally having a conversation with god "Sky Musing"). With that much musk of death lingering about an album can easily become one long, redundant dirge. Somehow, though, Wolf Alice can keep things light and the momentum of the album never feels weighted down, even if the guitars and lyrics get heavy.

There are many moments of theatrics on the new Wolf Alice record. From the inspiration for songs coming from films, like the "Heathers" influenced "Beautifully Unconventional" and book characters, like "Formidable Cool" which was created after reading The Girls by Emma Cline (a novel about a young girl falling into a Charles Manson-esque cult). Lead singer Ellie Rowsell has a unique ability to express the character emotion with her vocals. She's at turns vicious and spitting vitriol out with the lyrics ("Yuk Foo"), soft and delicate with angelic harmonies ("St. Purple and Green"), distant, sharp, and coolly whispering ("Formidable Cool"). She is doing powerhouse work on this album to change up the tone and create dramatic tension between songs.

There were a few songs that stalled my wholehearted love of Visions of a Life, but it's a well-rounded expression of a young band growing more confident in their sound. Lead singer Ellie Rowsell is a true talent to keep an eye on and Visions showcases her as a vocal chameleon.

Resources

Wolf Alice - Official Site

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