My first listen of Visions of a Life was far more emotional than I had ever expected. Each of us saw great promise in Wolf Alice following our review of their debut record back in 2015. I wouldn’t have said they were destined for greatness, but the potential was undoubtedly there… and here we are. How did they get here so quickly? I have no right to feel like a proud father, yet that’s exactly how I feel. In the space of two years, Wolf Alice have elevated themselves to the best band in the UK. Not five years. Two.
I wrote that ‘Wolf Alice will only truly define themselves as a band once they settle on a totally refined sound’. Interestingly, Visions of a Life covers an even larger stretch of styles, yet their pallet is somehow distinguished further. Wolf Alice absolutely own this sound — this is theirs. Hints of rock’n’roll, shoegaze, grunge, and synthpop blend fluently, and it’s produced to absolute precision by Justin Meldal-Johnsen. Whereas My Love is Cool was guilty of trying too hard, no such thing can be said of Visions. The riffs roar and the melodies soar, with the band playing beautifully to Ellie Rowsell’s strengths. The calculated use of space gives Rowsell the room she needs to further colour the arrangements. The stunning standout “Don’t Delete the Kisses” is the greatest example of Rowsell using the music’s ethereal scope to her advantage, and it’s really quite beautiful. Meanwhile, the thunderous title track shows that the band don’t have to rely on production techniques to stake their claim, and it’s a fucking belter.
It’s vital to understand what Visions is. This is not an OK Computer moment, nor is it a cultural beast like To Pimp A Butterfly. The record is unlikely to change the musical landscape, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an important moment. We’ve said it for years now: rock music has been getting boring for a while, and Wolf Alice are here to dispute that, intentionally or not. Even when they do simple it’s great, but what’s crucial is that they know when it is appropriate. They’re not here to show us what can be; they’re playing to us in order to depict the here and now. The music isn’t complex, and the lyrics border on super-cheesy, but we’re all prone to over-sentimentality when in the moment. Sort of like I am, right now. Visions of a Life is an overwhelming triumph, and as things stand, it’s the greatest record of the year.9 10
Favourite tracks // Don’t Delete the Kisses
Visions of a Life
After the Zero Hour
We all liked Wolf Alice’s debut, My Love is Cool. We liked it very much. It was imperfect and vivid and we were all excited to hear the band grow — and my haven’t they. I think Visions of a Life is a masterpiece. I’m utterly infatuated with everything about it. The songs, the sound, the feel, the pacing. Everything. Genres are too small to contain what Wolf Alice achieve here. The group have talked about how they’d lived with My Love is Cool’s songs for years before they were put out down on record, and you could hear it. For all their character, they were almost fighting each other for attention. In Visions of a Life it’s clear that the songs have developed within the confines of a single creative process, and the album benefits enormously.
The music’s been built around Ellie Howsell’s voice, and quite right too. Her adaptability is astounding. Spoken word, loving odes, tantrum screams. Name it and it’s there, sounding gorgeous. The sound follows her through every twist and turn, and fits her so snugly that I can only assume she was sewn into it. Not that she’s the sole reason Visions is so good. This is not the Ellie Rowsell Show starring The Rest of the Band. Not by a long shot. Visions of a Life is a Wolf Alice album, and everyone involved feels essential. Step back and listen to any given piece of a song in isolation and it’s a delight. Joel Amey’s drumming on “Heavenward”; Joff Oddie’s formidably cool guitar on “Formidable Cool”; Theo Ellis’s bassline for “Beautifully Unconventional”. I’m at least as taken with that bassline as I am with the album as a whole. On and on it goes. I connect with different songs every time I listen, and for different reasons. There’s a nimbleness to them that invites you to engage with something new every play. Are the songs fierce? Vulnerable? Simple? Transcendent? Depends what you’re focusing on in the moment. It’s all there, waiting to be adored. Massive props to producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen. He nailed it. The band go from punk to dreamscapes to out of orbit and the album’s continuity never falters. The threads never break, and woven together they make for something magical.
Perhaps most remarkably, I’m not even sure Wolf Alice have peaked… though I don’t mind if they have. I can live with that. They’ve already pushed into that feeling you get with Pink Floyd or The Beatles where the very idea that four people can be so well suited and brush such heights together becomes its own beautiful thing. It’s just wonderful. Visions of a Life is everything I wanted. How often do you get everything you wanted? I’ve fallen in love with it. It rocks my world.9 10
Favourite tracks // Formidable Cool
Don’t Delete the Kisses
Rock releases over the past few years haven’t quite scratched the sweet spot, and there’s been somewhat of a dearth of genuinely exciting new talent. Brandon Flowers recently commented in an interview with Noisey that new bands simply “aren’t good enough” to make waves. 2017 doesn’t have an answer to The Strokes, or Interpol, he claims. Much like The Killers’ output, Flowers is both spot-on and wildly off the mark. Maybe it’s naïve of me to expect a Vegas-based musician to be familiar with a group widely earmarked as the next best British band, but if he was I’m sure he’d have held his tongue. Wolf Alice are, quite simply, one of the most electrifying acts going right now. 2015’s My Love is Cool was a great debut, full of potential that was easy to notice but clearly not yet fully realized. With Visions of a Life that potential hasn’t quite been tapped in its entirety, but that doesn’t mean Wolf Alice haven’t put out a frontrunner for album of the year.
Ellie Rowsell’s voice is utterly breathtaking. She masterfully harmonises with the ethereal synths, crunching chord progressions, and funky solitary guitar notes that punctuate many verses throughout the album. It floats in spite of its weight, with a characterful punch at every crucial moment, and feels tantamount to the band’s instrumentation in that regard. Wolf Alice, much like the Angela Carter short story their name is lifted from, feel feral and transgressive yet eerily wholesome and warm. A persistent bottom-end compounds the dense yet mist-like use of space, jumping in to send a shockwave down your spine on the album’s many outright bangers. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it melodies, synths, and drum beats are restlessly introduced and slotted neatly into place through elegant mixing, generating a deeply rich and rewarding soundscape. The title track is reminiscent of “Fluffy” and “Giant Peach” from their debut with its dainty build to a staggering series of breakdowns, only now there’s a noticeable confidence derived from a far more clearly-defined identity. What strikes me most profoundly is that I don’t think Wolf Alice’s quality will plateau with their sophomore album. If they’re to be the flagship for rock’s overdue renaissance, I am wholeheartedly on board.9 10
Favourite tracks // Visions of a Life
Don’t Delete the Kisses