album review... Wolf Alice - My Love is Cool
Call it indie, call it grunge, the debut album from London upstarts Wolf Alice has weathered several years of hype to finally arrive. My Love is Cool is a narrative that rattles the bolts, greater in scope than the base romance its name would suggest and stemming closely from the band’s namesake. The story of Wolf Alice’s namesake is a well-trodden one, but feels important in this instance. Cut from Angela Carter’s collection ‘The Bloody Chamber’, her tale ‘Wolf Alice’ is a twisted take on Red Riding Hood, which sees the eponymous heroine raised by wolves and struggling not only to integrate with the human world, but to understand her own humanity and femininity. Like the story, the album is about transitions, namely going in and out of love, and often alludes to the feral Alice with lyrical asides whilst cutting its own path. It’s refreshing to see a cohesive idea behind an album rather than it just being a patchwork of demo tapes and fan-favourites. It makes sense for older demos like Bros and Fluffy to make the cut, not just to pad out the hit-ratio, but for their contributions to said narrative. The snarling line on the latter “I’ve got nothing in this dead old town” might be a fairly lazy rallying call for the universally bored youth, but it’s a great hook nonetheless.
Lack of transparency is the crux of My Love is Cool and its secret weapon. The first listen is a hazy and confusing tangle of guitar screeches and ethereal vocals, like seeing the shadows of great songs through smoke. It’s frustrating because the true potential of the album isn’t clear early on due to its stylistic chopping and changing, but it’s this uncanny state of genre fluidity makes ‘My Love is Cool’ a moving target capable of some real blindsides. Trying to quantify Rowsell’s voice with high or low notes would be a waste of time; it flits between breathy whispers and siren chants, before ripping into unhinged banshee screams, just as versatile as the instrumentation. Opener Turn to Dust is all elliptical chants and sliding Tudor notes, You’re a Germ charges head-first into raucous 90s pop-punk, Freazy brushes shoulders with the mainstream on its bouncy hopscotch chorus, proudly flaunting optimism “I will meet you where the grass is greener,” and proving that pop isn’t such a dirty word anymore.
Dustings of shoegaze swirl around Swallowtail which sees drummer Joel Amey take the vocal lead in a twist on the traditionally token acoustic track, which swells before bursting into forty seconds of blistering rapid-fire riffs; a ‘strip naked and run in the streets’ climax. It’s exciting to see this kind of risk being taken on a debut album, especially one with such lofty expectations, and the inclusion of Amey’s bleary-eyed tale of finding love “up atop the Shard” pays off massively. Standout Lisbon’s quivering riffs give way to some kind of regal horn-guitar hybrid that’s far beyond the indie paygrade, and like single Giant Peach’s venue-destroying breakdown showcases the band at their best sonically. Wolf Alice only truly bring the pyrotechnics on these two tracks, keeping the rest of the instrumentation lean and hungry, mostly driven by guitar-led lurches and whiplash percussion that never waste aural time or space.
Soapy Water will be brushed under the carpet for its affinity with Lana, but amidst the laboured drum pads and sultry textures there’s poignant lyrical catharsis from Rowsell. Underneath the loping incantations of Silk there’s a similar atmosphere of pessimism, as the frontwoman questions her own narrative in undertones, representing the self-doubt everyone holds inside. The stylistic choices aren’t always as overt as this, making the album a musical pass-the-parcel, frequently offering up something new upon playback.
Bedroom classic might be a stretch, and even if naysayers are right and the territory My Love is Cool explores is that already trodden in the 90s, it remains a landmark event in 2015 at the least. The record seems to understand that life -youth especially- is a state of flux and offers listeners a canvas, coloured by the great splashes and rips of everything that Wolf Alice have desired, had and lost in life and love.