The north London quartet step up to the plate with "the debut of the decade so far"
Like all the scariest fairytale monsters, Wolf Alice disguise their true form to lure in the innocents. If you’d never seen them splatter indie guts up a toilet venue’s walls with one roaring grunge lunge, you might wander into this long-awaited debut album thinking you’re at folky female-only festival Lilith Fair. “Keep your beady eyes on me”, Ellie Rowsell coos like the daintiest disciple of Joanna Newsom as the north Londoners weave fine strands of Tudor folk guitars and courtly beats into opener ‘Turn To Dust’. And so begins the delicious deception, the sort of musical ambush, stylistic sleight-of-hand and glint-eyed sucker punch that makes for albums of the year.
Wolf Alice stay muzzled just long enough. It’s key to the artistry of ‘My Love Is Cool’: to blindside, intrigue and confound those fans who thought they knew the drill – a shoegazey Hole with better tunes, basically – and to draw the unsuspecting in for the kill. As they gradually ratchet up the tempo, a glint of fang emerges amid Ellie’s deceptively butter-wouldn’t-melt lyrics. “Are you wild like me, raised by wolves and other beasts?” she asks a youthful partner in crime over the alt-pop candy-swirl of ‘Bros’, the sound of Chairlift and Summer Camp having a waft-off to riffs from Ride’s cloudiest guitar. Then, the pounce. “One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Six! Seven! You ain’t going to heaven!” Ellie yowls as ‘You’re A Germ’ shreds the sheep’s clothing and turns into Pixies’ ‘Tame’, the guitarist unleashing thrashpop hell on some “guilty fucker” rock star. It ends with a cackling, spitting, foul-mouthed tirade and ‘My Love Is Cool’ never feels safe again. It becomes the rock equivalent of raising tiger cubs – adorable but, at any moment, it could have your larynx for lunch.
Unpredictability is a rare and desirable commodity, and it makes Wolf Alice 2015’s most potential-packed band. While it might be difficult to imagine, say, Royal Blood making vast stylistic leaps into the unknown any more than you could picture Newsnight installing the Love Lift from Take Me Out, Wolf Alice can, and repeatedly do, swerve off down dark, unmapped side-roads littered with emotional detritus. “Feel like going out and smashing windows”, Ellie deadpans on the Stereolab-do-The Maccabees ‘Lisbon’, sunk deep “in a black black hole, deeper than death” as skin-scorching squalls of guitar radiation erupt around her. ‘Silk’ is the show-stopping epic plonked slap bang in the middle of the record, the sound of Ellie boldly chanting her way out of a horde of whispering ghosts from her past, like Metric doing the theme for the Poltergeist remake. One minute a Lana Del Rey seductress, the next a tantrum-throwing punk banshee or mournful gothic poet, she’s the millennial Karen O, the gloriously schizoid shape-shifter at the heart of Wolf Alice’s allure.
There’s slick summer disco (‘Freazy’), nervy motorik psych-grunge (‘Giant Peach’) and a stampeding goth Elastica (‘Fluffy’). Drummer Joel Amey even gets a turn at the mic on the misty ‘Swallowtail’, which goes MBV for the last 20 seconds. ‘My Love Is Cool’ never stops trying to squirm out of your grasp, right up to the shoe-phoric finale ‘The Wonderwhy’, full of fragile fears for the afterlife. Consistently defying categorization and embracing synthetics as rock’s direct blood relation, ‘My Love Is Cool’ is the epitome of the pan-cultural 21st Century rock album, and easily the debut of the decade so far. Get savaged.
Director: Mike Crossey
Record label: Dirty Hit
Release date: 22 Jun, 2015