North London quartet Wolf Alice’s second LP Visions of a Life is released today, and is one of the year’s most anticipated alternative/indie releases after the huge success of debut My Love is Cool. With the new record’s predecessor making the ‘Best Albums of the Year’ lists in The Guardian, NME, Q and Rough Trade, and winning the iTunes ‘Best New Artist/Band’ award of the same year, plus BRIT Award and Grammy nominations among others, Visions of a Life’s four singles so far are a strongly promising sign that this album may achieve even more than the group’s first.
Frontwoman Ellie Rowsell has told Q Magazine that album opener ‘Heavenward’ was written following the death of a close friend, and despite its theme, is a forceful, beautifully produced piece before Rowsell’s vocals even begin. Rockier, fierce instrumentals set the album alight from the first seconds, and form a life-affirming piece with poignant lyrics such as “I’m gonna celebrate you forever”, and “go heavenward/like all earth angels should”. ‘Yuk Foo’ cranks the lever up with a piece tipping the rock scales towards metal; it’s also the first glimpse listeners had of new material as the first single off the record. If ‘Heavenward’ was a breeze of fresh air for 2017, it marked the calm before the ‘Yuk Foo’ storm. Speaking to The Fader, Rowsell has described the album’s lead single as an ‘outpour of emotion’, easily heard from the off with feisty and fierce lyrics such as “Am I a bitch to not like you anymore?”.
Rockier, fierce instrumentals set the album alight from the first seconds
With the angst out of the system for now, ‘Beautifully Unconventional’ is softer on the ears yet maintains signature snappy Wolf Alice guitar chords sparking between lines. With its video featuring the band performing the track with 1950s doo-wop outfits and Rowsell dressed as Marilyn Monroe, the track’s title certainly is a fitting description of the album until now. Second album single ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses’ is up next, a track ‘laboured over’ by the band according to bassist Theo Ellis in an interview with Exeposé. The track steps away from heavier instrumentals heard so far and instead has hints of dream-pop with Rowsell’s vocals carrying the piece.
‘Planet Hunter’ neatly follows up with layered acoustic guitar strumming and more soft vocals, far from the fierce and fast-paced ‘Yuk Foo’. With echoes of early Coldplay and KT Tunstall, Wolf Alice are taking the dream-pop label and are running with it. Orbiting still on subsequent ‘Sky Musings’ about Rowsell’s experiences about having a panic attack on an aeroplane, the track opens with building engine sounds to give the impression the track is quite literally taking off. Rushed and racing anxious lyrics eerily evoke just the feeling the band are striving for.
Visions of a Life meets all expectations
Next numbers ‘Formidable Cool’ and ‘Space & Time’ pass by smoothly yet aren’t far off textbook Wolf Alice pieces. Despite its astronomical theme, ‘Space & Time’ is a short but infectious foot-tapping melody with a pulsing rhythm. Not for the first time on the album, Rowsell’s personal experiences become the subject of a song, with ‘St. Purple and Green’ about losing her grandmother to dementia and Rowsell’s fondness for the way she spoke evident in the lyrics. Initially with riling guitar chords bounding throughout, the song becomes more stripped back at its core with gentle plucking in the background and repetitions of ‘one step, after the other’; it musically serves as the older, more mature sibling of debut LP’s ‘Silk’ with sonic invigoration.
‘After the Zero Hour’ is another example of the group’s versatility and ability to dice with different tones and win before album finale and the record’s longest track yet signs off the album well with its title track with its haziness and pace initially; it soon evolves into a combination of elements of each preceding track. Visions of a Life meets all expectations, with each single dazzling with individuality, and each other track cemented itself firmly as an audible trademark stamp of the band’s signature.