Over the past decade, Wolf Alice have emerged as the most influential band in the UK. Hitting the indie scene with all guns blazing with the release of their first EP proper ‘Blush’ back in 2013, the London-based four-piece quickly set the standard for everything we now expect from British guitar music: emotionally intelligent lyrics, consistently striking arrangements, and a level of confidence so sublime that they continue to make it seem like truly anything is possible.
Ahead of their monumental Latitude Festival headline slot this Friday (July 23), here are the 10 best Wolf Alice tracks from a formidable back catalogue.
10‘Heavenly Creatures’ (2014)
Wolf Alice were already one of the buzziest guitar acts in the UK when their ‘Creature Songs’ EP dropped in 2014, but it was the four-track effort’s standout moment ‘Heavenly Creatures’ that suddenly snapped them into focus. A quietly harrowing tribute to the 1994 drama of the same name, it revealed a creepy underbelly to the band’s output that we hadn’t seen prior to this single; the “Time to die/Time to kill/Time will fly/Time will heal” passage is particularly hair-raising.
Best bit: The moment when Ellie Rowsell’s feathery yet urgent vocal rises above a whisper for the first time
A hidden gem tucked in the latter half of 2015’s debut ‘My Love Is Cool’, ‘Swallowtail’ spotlights a rare and perfectly understated vocal performance from drummer Joel Amey. This crushing meditation on dashed hopes sees him debate if a faltering relationship is some sort of cruel set-up, or if the situation is all in his head. But just as his wistfully and nostalgic reflections on romance start to wind down, his band unleashes the almighty outro, and his fears fall into oblivion.
Best bit: When the song suddenly begins to exorcise all negative feelings through cathartic guitar licks
8‘Yuk Foo’ (2017)
Listening to ‘Yuk Foo’ for the first time was like witnessing Wolf Alice leap from promise and gnarly potential to a full-blown vision. It was a lead single that marked a bold shift from the heady teenage rock songs that group had released before: there’s no real hook, and its sweary, thrillingly uncompromising one-liners – “You bore me to death/Well deplore me/Well I don’t give a shit!” – could easily soundtrack the near life-threatening moment when a rowdy festival crowd starts a wall of death.
Best bit: The drums that boom like thunderclaps and threaten to drown everything else out
‘Smile’ is truly Wolf Alice’s finest “fuck you” moment. The frank, plain-spoken, and incendiary verses play out like a series of dares: “And now you all think I’m unhinged/But wind it up and this honeybee stings”, Rowsell pointedly declares with dry wit. The track also stands as the moment that best showcases the band’s sound: a mix of muted drums and grinding, dirty basslines, with Rowsell’s raspy vocal striking a perfect balance between cool nonchalance and genuine anger. It’s a perfectly-formed evocation of being both unbothered and swept away by other people’s misconceptions.
Best bit: A rhythm section so powerful and enormous that it could split the night sky in two
Long after the sun sets on festival season each year, the biggest anthems live on. Allow this ‘My Love Is Cool’ highlight to catch you off guard and everything about the summer – the breathless highs, the glorious (and often short-lived) heatwaves, and the adrenaline that comes with rocking up at the gates of your favourite festival – comes rushing back in rich, vivid detail. As ‘Lisbon’ wraps itself up, the constantly-unfurling outro leaps across a barrage of tumbling riffs primed for a sweaty, overstuffed moshpit – the perfect place to experience its brilliance.
Best bit: Every time Rowsell cries: “Feel like going out and smashing windows!”. After the last sixteen months we’ve all had, the feeling is mutual
5‘The Last Man on Earth’ (2021)
All delicate piano lines, psychy guitars, and swirling vocals, ‘The Last Man On Earth’ is a stirring encapsulation of the vintage subtleties that informed Wolf Alice’s chart-topping ‘Blue Weekend’. Rowsell’s voice brims with poignancy as she reflects on our narcissistic society: “Every book you take and you dust off from the shelf/Has lines between lines between lines that you read about yourself.” Recalling David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars?’, the bridge allows majestic washes of sound to arrive and disappear, the band determined to leave no second of this song unembellished.
Best bit: The wonder is in the arrangements, which shift the song into a swooning waltz that feels like floating in space (probably)
4‘Lipstick On The Glass’ (2021)
‘Blue Weekend’ pinnacle ‘Lipstick On The Glass’ is lushly orchestrated, yet it seethes with infidelity and betrayal. As the dizzying verses navigate romantic confusion and what it means to restart a relationship with a disloyal lover, the guitars prickle with horror and disgust, while Rowsell delivers her strongest vocal to date, scaling operatic highs during the rousing pre-chorus. It’s a deliberately uncomfortable listen: a song that surges forward into the darkness like a flood in the night.
Best bit: An unnerving, muffled first chorus that lends itself to the atmosphere of an eerily quiet bar
3‘Giant Peach’ (2015)
‘Giant Peach’ warns us of a coming fire before it burns everything to the ground. This grunge-leaning live show staple veers between references to Rowsell’s Holloway stomping ground (“My dark and pretty town”), and an overarching message of the importance of moving away from home and expanding your horizons. But the song’s real muscle and hunger comes from Rowsell’s vocal control: she sings with a meditative composure until all hell breaks loose as the riotous final chorus takes off. Growing pains have never sounded so delicious.
Best bit: The ragged scream that ushers in an utterly breathless finale
What makes ‘Bros’ such a life-affirming blast of joy is how it offers a vision of friendship that is so gloriously unrestrained. Mirroring the freedom and boundless energy of childhood imagination, it gleefully jumps from cutting dodgy haircuts to running riot on public transport. “Me and you/We could do better/I’m quite sure,” coos Rowsell in the style of a playground chant; the lyric is repeated over and over, translating to a genuine celebration of embracing the sillier side of your mates. Like friendship itself, ‘Bros’ is more complex and rewarding than it first appears.
Best bit: Obviously that fizzing guitar line – it’s instantly recognisable and almost (happy) tear-inducing
1‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ (2017)
How did Wolf Alice make one of this generation’s definitive love songs? By laying down a simple formula: a sparkling shoegaze chorus and a shit-ton of feeling. What stands out about ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ – other than its urgent builds and endlessly involving melody – is how starkly it spells out its swooning plea to a crush in such a forthright manner.
Up until this point in their then-short career, the quartet’s sprawling back catalogue had been defined by a restless, barrier-breaking spirit; here, Rowsell is composed, mining a blossoming relationship for self-discovery. This mastery of emotion was a real revelation for the band and fans alike.
Best bit: Its sky’s-the-limit refrain, which was penned to be screeched wildly, head out of the car window: “Me and you were meant to be in loooove!”
Wolf Alice headline Latitude tonight (July 23)