Somewhere between Antisocialites’ first line (“You find a wave and try to hold on for as long as you can”) and its last (“Forget everything tonight”), Molly Rankin loses sight of what she’s truly searching for. The endless summer of Alvvays’ 2014 self-titled record is gone, as is that album’s romantic interest, whether a real person or an imagined lover made up during Rankin’s various daydreams while working at a smoothie shop. The sound may not have changed too much in the three long years between records, but its lyrical content is more indicative of an overcast early September day, noticeably darker than its blissfully sunny precursor.
Like any mid-to-late twenty-something, Rankin feels lost, floating between relationships, jobs, and parties, only finding salvation in pop culture and her self-deprecating sense of humor. Her lyrics glide between multi-layered metaphors about wanting to truly get to know someone else (“When I chip through your candy coating you’re stuffed with insulation / Just strawberry ice cream floating with a sprinkle indignation” on “Plimsoll Punks”) and fantasies about running into Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid and then proceeding to do LSD on a picnic bench (“Lollipop (Ode to Jim)”).
But throughout all of the “What’s left for you and me?” are-we-or-aren’t-we questions throughout Antisocialites, Alvvays haven’t lost their knack for writing concise indie pop songs that rival the best of Camera Obscura or Belle & Sebastian. By adding a warm synth sheen for their sophomore release, the Toronto-based quintet managed to somehow make their jangly guitars seem even lusher. They’ve achieved what every band strives for on their second album but most fail to do: striking the middle ground between attempting to avoid making the same record twice and wanting to evolve and change their sound.
By just subtly tweaking their songwriting process ever so slightly, Alvvays have managed to one-up their 2014 breakthrough record. “Plimsoll Punks” plays like a fuller, more tightly wound version of Alvvays’ “Next of Kin;” “Dreams Tonite” is a supercharged, groovier take on “Ones Who Love You.” Antisocialites feels like Rankin & co. dissected every minute detail from their debut and subsequently took three meticulous years to figure out how to truly improve upon each part, one by one.
Those small flourishes – a more pronounced synth line here, an unexpected key change there – haven’t distracted from what makes Alvvays great, they’ve only made the group’s overall sound even better. The focus is, and likely always will be, on Rankin’s blasé and ultra-clear voice and the near-perfect guitar tones that prop her up. Everything new on Antisocialites simply amplifies the Alvvays we’re already familiar with. They’re not adding much to the already solid formula, but they refuse to stand still, pushing themselves both musically and lyrically.
So while Rankin may be dealing with the uncertainty of aging while being unsure of whom she really is, she still makes her insecurities and romantic incompatibilities sound fun and engaging. For all its darker and uneasy lyrical content, this is still a record that begs to be blasted on road trips and at rooftop parties. Alvvays was a mid-June perfect summer day; Antisocialites is a little cloudier, with a bit of a cold breeze blowing through. But, hey, it’s still summer after all.