Following a five-year break lengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian indie guitar pop quintet Alvvays has returned with its third-album Blue Rev — and from the sounds of things, the prolonged absence did the band good.
Alvvays (pronounced “Always”) plays McDonald Theatre Oct. 21.Though often traditionalist in their rock band arrangements, the guitars on Blue Rev are louder and more aggressive, even more so than in the past. The sound underpins lead singer Molly Rankin’s trademark literate and often witty sad-girl lyrics and singing style.
Speaking from her home in Toronto, Canada, Rankin calls that assessment fair. She likens the subtle shift on Blue Rev to what the band sounds like live on stage. “I’ve generally been a fan of loud guitars,” Rankin says. “There are parts of this album that channel that a bit better,” such as album highlight “Pomeranian Spinster,” a Ramones-style bop with elements of swinging ’60s French pop music. The song devolves into an ecstatically deranged guitar outro from Alvvays lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley.
New Wave-y keyboards from Kerri MacLellan are also a big part of what Alvvays does, like on Blue Rev’s “Very Online Guy,” in which Rankin sings “He’s a very online guy… He laps up all domains, and he loves a patio.”
Then there’s “Pharmacist,” in which Rankin’s strong soprano voice periodically emerges for air from a woozy guitar haze. Alvvays remains punk rock in the sense their short songs rarely overstay their welcome, like little bursts of energy leaving you wanting more.
Elsewhere, Alvvays pays honor to its classic college rock influences like Teenage Fanclub and The Smiths with lines like “I dropped out, college education’s a dull knife, if you don’t believe in the lettered life,” from the song “Easy on Your Own.”
Rankin explains that Alvvays never stopped writing music throughout the pandemic, and they were in the studio recording the follow-up to their 2017 sophomore album Antisocialites when lockdown came to Canada. That break gave Blue Rev new textures.
“There were some later compositions that made it on to the album that I don’t think would exist if we didn’t have that time,” Rankin says, “and stranger ideas that I think were left in as a result of having that time as well.”
On returning to life as a rock musician, performing on stage for audiences all over the world after so much time spent alone, Rankin says, “I’m learning how to be an extrovert again.”
Last time they were in Eugene in 2018, Alvvays sold out Sessions — then Hi-Fi — Music Hall. That venue sadly shuts down at the end of this month. Don’t miss Sessions’ final show with iconoclastic country-rock duo Shovels & Rope as they, too, make a return trip to Eugene in support of the 10th anniversary edition of their 2012 album O’ Be Joyful on Tuesday, October 25.
Supported by Wisconsin band Slow Pulp, Alvvays plays 8 pm Friday, Oct. 21, at McDonald Theatre; $25 advance, $30 door, all ages. Shovels & Rope performs 8 pm Tuesday, Oct. 25, at Sessions Music Hall; $29.50, dinner and a show tickets available, 21+.