I’m listening to Visions of a Life as I write this article, and that’s not easy to do when lyrics like these ask for your undivided attention. Hearing Rowsell whisper the words “I’m typing you a message/that I know I’ll never send” is absorbing in a way you wouldn’t quite expect. The words are familiar, and almost mundane but it’s twisted and changed into something extraordinary when it’s placed apart from the busy and chaotic sound of the album. It is these moments when the lyrics pierce the crowded fabric of the music that Wolf Alice sounds most captivating.
It is these moments when the lyrics pierce the crowded fabric of the music that Wolf Alice sounds most captivating.
The opening track ‘Heavenward’ is perhaps less of an initial encapsulation and more an indication of things to come. It introduces a recognisable hybrid of shoegaze and grunge that ran throughout their debut album, ‘My Love is Cool’. A forceful and harsh ‘Yuk Foo’ follows as the album starts to bear its teeth with lyrics like “I want to fuck all the people I meet”. Though juvenile and aggressive, it is at the very least an interesting listen when contrasted against the serenity of the songs that surround it.
Rowsell hoped not to dominate the album with the US hardcore punk traits, with which ‘Yuk Foo’ was overflowing. The album compensates for the brashness of ‘Yuk Foo’ by juxtaposing it with the likes of ‘Sky Musings’. A quieter song in which a list of anxieties are recited, accompanied by the menacing beat of a guitar, which is abruptly paused for her to fumble the words “I’m sorry/ I lost myself for a minute/ Can I get a glass of water” which creates a poignant sense of vulnerability leaking from behind the aggressive front of Rowsell’s voice. Equally, ‘After the Zero Hour’ showcases a choral opening and the softer side of the lead singer’s vocal emerges again. A guitar is strummed delicately in the background while we get another chance to hear Rowsell’s voice take a lead role in the music.
In the album’s first single, ‘Beautifully Unconventional’, we hear less of the recurrent experimentation with the genres and voices that bounce around the album, and more of a song that is carefully put together. There is a rhythm that catches its listener from the moment it bounds in and powerful lyrics that compete with the melody beautifully. It is markedly different to the less formulaic songs in the album it stands head and shoulders above the competing singles.
'Sky Musings' creates a poignant sense of vulnerability leaking from behind the aggressive front of Rowsell’s voice.
This album is certainly not an easy listen. Tracks oscillate between folk and grunge, often merging the two whilst dealing with issues of romance and the anxieties of one’s own death. In most places, the songs are difficult to follow and rough with confusion and malice. But it is also distinctly heartfelt and affecting in the rare exposed moments that Wolf Alice allows you to glimpse.