By Oliver Butler (@notoliverbutler)
Can your love be cool though? Is love a cool thing? Love can only hurt in the end one way or the other, that’s not cool.
Anyway, Norf Lahndan alt-rockers, if you could pin them to one genre, Wolf Alice are back with their sophomore album Visions of a Life, after their stellar success with 2015’s debut album, My Love is Cool, causing the band to explode over a short period of time, being certified gold no less, giving Visions of a Life big shoes to fill. On first impressions, it feels like this album fills its predecessor’s shoes and takes large strides forward.
Wolf Alice fans will already be able to tell you about the first four singles from this album, which are actually the first four songs on this album including opening track Heavenward, which is a growing, airy and uplifting track. You’re nice and chilled out after that track, it’s a warm, relaxing bath, then Yuk Foo comes along and throws a cold bucket of water in your face, as Ellie Rowsell screams at you. It’s an angry, driving track, short & sharp to keep you focused for the rest of the album. Ellie’s calmed down into the chilled out & funky Beautifully Unconventional, but what if she goes all Yuk Foo on you again? Keep your wits about you. It’s the angriest they’ve ever sounded, and we know that, because Theo Ellis told us so.
Whilst Yuk Foo bares the wolf’s teeth, the most enjoyable thing about Wolf Alice is how chilled out their sound is. It’s a wolf you can stroke, cuddle up to as the fire softly crackles in the background as you read a nice book. It’s very comforting, for want of a better phrase, light like silk, with Ellie Rowsell, Joel Amey, Joff Oddie and Theo Ellis creating beautiful, ethereal sounds with Ellie’s lead vocals layered on top like audible chocolate, with Planet Hunter proving the previous hypothesis, as you’re transported through the song, it does feel like you’re having a Sunday drive through Rainbow Road on MarioKart. But you never fall off the edges.
The cool, airy feel carries on into Sky Musings, but takes a darker turn. Light, airy synth becomes heavier & darker, the blue sky are swapped with grey clouds as thunder slowly rumbles, with sky musings being literal as Ellie muses and mutters throughout the course of this track as she ‘thinks about all the people I’ve loved and cared for’, it’s not like this is a heavy track in that there’s a snarling sound, it really feels like you’re peering into the mind of someone who’s on the absolute edge. It’s an overriding theme, but Ellie Rowsell really is the focal point of this album. Her vocals can be as light and airy as the synth waves she surfs, but can also pierce through the heavier elements like a ballistic vocal missile. Good vocals are the maker or breaker of any band, and with Wolf Alice, you meet your maker. Sky Musings might well be the best track on the album, but it merely marks the halfway point of the album.
Formidable Cool has a er, well, cool vibe to it. Not only is a good song, it’s technically correct, the best kind of correct, as it is formidably cool song, one of those songs that makes you rock from side to side no matter what you’re doing, struttin’ as it grows, shows and flows. One other overiding theme in this album is that it feels perfectly timed. No song is too short, no song is too long, leaving you either wanting more or feeling bored. Yuk Foo is a short, sharp shot in the arm, where as a track like Sadboy (aha can relate, right lads?), is a slower jam because it wants to be. This album feels natural, if natural is the word, in that no song feels overproduced or forced, as if they fell straight from a musical tree.
Whilst the harp-heavy beginning of After the Zero Hour sounds like the beginning of a flashback sequence in a sitcom, it’s a beautiful and powerful song, the choral vocals are just simply stunning. Layered over a soft acoustic line & ethereal, this song yet again displays the flexibility and dynamic of Wolf Alice‘s sound; they can write hot and heavy numbers like Yuk Foo, can let you peer into the mind with Sky Musings and write powerful music for the soul with After the Zero Hour. Do Wolf Alice even have a sound, or do they just do them? Either way, it works. And then some.
Definitely on par with their debut album, if not better, Visions of a Life takes the second album hoodoo, fuks the yoo out of it and turns it into a mature, polished & ethereal sound to leave you satisfied, relaxed, and happy.