From laconic, wise-cracking slackers like Stephen Malkmus and Bethany Cosentino to starry-eyed romantics like Stuart Murdoch and Tracyanne Campbell, the history of left-field, literate indie pop is littered with idiosyncratic, effortlessly charming vocalists. Molly Rankin, the woman who leads Canadian five-piece Alvvays, is a descendent of both lines; she’s a madcap schemer and a bleeding heart, equally likely to scamper away after tripping over her own feet and to plead a male pal to reconsider his disdain for the institution of marriage. Her actual genealogy is just as impressive as her musical ancestry: Rankin is a member of the Rankin Family, Canadian folk luminaries who have written and toured across the country for decades. She cut her teeth as part of the family’s band before striking out on her own with a 2010 EP; that solo project gradually picked up friends and nearby musicians and morphed into Alvvays. The band’s eponymous debut full-length is smart, sharp guitar pop, with songs shaped by lyrical playfulness, chiming, melodic leads, and Rankin’s bell-clear, yearning voice.
The band’s songwriting is possessed of both an impressive ear for structure and a remarkable generosity. Songs build in discrete steps to emotional crescendos, then hang there or ascend to an even higher level, rewarding listeners with a new melody or another round of a potent chorus; crisp, clean lines like the ones that mark “Adult Diversion” and “Archie, Marry Me” return for curtain calls, unfurling over top of simple, metronomic rhythms. The high level of execution is a necessity: many bands have written songs like this before, and well, so each new track requires a certain indelibility in order to stand out. The band is also differentiated by lesser peers by the strength of Rankin’s character. She’s immediately familiar and relatable, fully realized in a way that’s quite impressive given this is Alvvays’ debut; she could be the girl sitting across from you in a seminar, speeding with intent down a bike lane, relaxing in a park with a wide-brimmed hat. She spends a lot of time singing about love, and navigates that fraught terrain with an exuberance and palpable anxiety that belies her youth. It’s a perspective that equally suits jangling, up-tempo cuts like “Adult Diversion” and “Atop a Cake” and dreamier, more wistful songs like highlights “Ones Who Love You” and “The Agency Group.” Her voice, pure as spring water and able to easily reach lofty, piercing notes, is best served by the latter pair of tracks; she has a deft hand with heartbreak.
In the moments when listeners are able to tear themselves away from the band’s sticky, simple guitar lines, they’re rewarded with a lyrical wit and intelligence that nicely complements Rankin’s erudite persona. Spend enough time around smart people and you’ll meet characters who clearly derive personal satisfaction from putting together exquisite sentences and dropping ten-dollar words; it’s a precious source of joy, sure, but it’s infectious all the same. The members of Alvvays fit that mold: when Rankin tries to convince a romantic partner to stick around on “Party Police” by telling him that “we can find comfort in debauchery,” it’s easy to imagine the sparkle in her eye and the half-grin plastered on her face. It’s to the band’s credit that their toying with vocabulary and phrasing feels inclusive, rather than smug, and those aforementioned melodies act like gateways into their wordy world. It’s those two strengths, and Rankin’s innate likeability, that separate Alvvays from their peers in a genre that’s always ripe with aspiring stars.