Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Alvvays: Antisocialites

Antisocialites is chock full of sly, honest assessments of the misery -- or, at best, the ambivalence -- inherent in so much of dating, especially when toxic masculinity enters the frame.

Antisocialites, the second full-length from Toronto indie pop outfit Alvvays, is in nearly every way the equal of its predecessor. As with their 2014 eponymous debut, the band continues to hone a strain of loose, jangly guitar pop in the same vein as TOPS and Pure Bathing Culture, winking at the obscurities of dream pop while keeping both feet planted firmly in the sunshine. Still, with their latest effort, Alvvays find ways to expand their scope and deepen their ambition.

Or, at the very least, they do so with one song unequivocally. The album opens with what may be Alvvays’ best song to date, the infectious “In Undertow”. Neater and more polished than highlights from their debut like “Adult Diversion”, the song retains the band’s characteristically breezy veneer but emboldens it with a cathartic rapture. For an indie tune with beachside imagery, it’s surprising just how big and glorious the song ends up feeling by its climax. Molly Rankin’s lyrics are tight, incisive, and precise, with each line effectively cutting down a disgraced lover. “‘What’s left for you and me?’ I ask that question rhetorically,” she sings in one of the song’s many funny yet understated kiss-offs. In terms of sentiment, there are even faint echoes of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”, namely with the pointed question, “When you get old and faded out, will you want your friends?”

“In Undertow” is followed by a stream of similarly clever and savvy pop-rock songs, even if none are quite its equal. Lyrically, “In Undertow” also sets the tone for Antisocialites‘ theme of defiant independence, especially in the context of romance. There’s a certain power in dispassion, in refusing to have one’s affections or attractions used against you, and it’s one that Rankin draws upon often. Lines like, “I will never be your type” might sound brokenhearted on paper, but Rankin delivers them more like someone who just dodged a bullet. “Not My Baby”, another standout, exercises a similar appreciation of singledom. “Now that you’re not my baby / I’ll go do whatever I want,” she deadpans. “You can tell your friends that I don’t make sense and I don’t care / Because I’m really not there.”

More than just a breakup album, though, Antisocialites is a sharp put-down of unwanted suitors and sleazy “good guys”. “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” is a Miranda July short story’s worth of material packed into a three-minute jaunt, recounting an affair with a pretentious columnist who “grabbed my wrist and said you liked my keychain” by way of an introduction. They proceed to have sex on (and break) a coffee table, drop acid on a park bench, and pass out on the bathroom floor. All this is presented in a darkly funny format, but there is a real sadness and frustration underneath that can easily be missed. Antisocialites is chock full of such sly, honest assessments of the misery — or, at best, the ambivalence — inherent in so much of dating, especially when toxic masculinity enters the frame.

As with “Lollipop”, many songs on this album that initially appear airy or weightless reveal themselves over repeated listens to be surprisingly sturdy. Still, though, there are moments when the unassuming (500) Days of Summer vibes backfire, and the collection grows a bit flimsy. “Plimsoll Punks” provides a take on teeny pop-punk that, while good fun, is less impressive than the band’s finest moments. “Dreams Tonite” may be one of Alvvays’ prettiest offerings, but it is also one of their least substantive.

Yet even the weakest moments here have redeeming qualities, and Antisocialites as a whole remains a satisfying sophomore effort. “Forget About Life”, with its dark carnival organs borrowed straight from a lost Stereolab cut, provides the clearest look into the emotional currents running through Antisocialites, so often coyly or playfully obstructed from view. There is a wealth of stories and insights to be found throughout this album, in fact; you just have to remember to catch them before they blow away.

RATING 7 / 10