Wolf Alice seems to have mastered the art of experimentation and varied sounds in a scene that has been plagued by bland repetition in recent years. Rising from the grimy grey of London, they have evolved into one of the biggest names in rock to have come from Britain in years, effortlessly leading the Britrock revival. Consisting of singer/guitarist Ellie Rowsell, guitarist Joff Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis, and drummer Joel Amey, Wolf Alice’s wide range of sound is synonymous with the unique personalities of each member. Frontwoman Ellie Rowsell is surprisingly timid and soft-spoken when the music stops, yet also displays a certain endearing quirky confidence. Joff Oddie comes across as a man who values music above all, not giving much importance to the other theatrics of being a band member. In contrast, Theo Ellis is the life of the band; hilarious and charismatic, and looking like he could’ve been part of the Sex Pistols back in the day, he’s been known to rock a striking fluffy pink guitar strap, and occasionally glitter and eyeliner onstage – when he feels like it of course. And finally, Joel Amey brings an overall chill, vintage vibe to the band, which is emphasised in his love for flowy floral blouses and vintage trousers (as shown in an interview with Beats 1)
Although the band was first formed in 2010, it wasn’t until 2015 that they released their first full-length album, titled My Love is Cool. Some reviewers were quick to label them as 90’s-nostalgic grunge wannabes, but as time progressed many became fond of their complex sound which, upon closer inspection, was arguably distinct to Wolf Alice themselves. It was in this album that their willingness to experiment with genres was properly revealed, and shot them into fame with hits like ‘Bros‘, ‘Fluffy‘, ‘Giant Peach‘ and ‘You’re a Germ‘. Rowsell’s sweet and shouty voice that coupled with delightfully grimy instrumentals shot Wolf Alice into the limelight as thousands flocked to various gigs and festivals to watch them perform, and in 2016 they won Best Live Band at the NME Awards.
Two years after their first album, Wolf Alice returns with Visions of a Life, an album way more ambitious and courageous than their last. The band released Yuk Foo as their first single, a ragingly loud track that shocked many who wondered whether this new era would see a heavier side to Wolf Alice’s sound. However, the band later assured that their sound will remain varied with the release of other, more melodic singles prior to the album’s release such as ‘Heavenward‘, which is also the opening song of the album. Buzzing shoegaze instrumentals soar in-between the soft echoes of Rowsell’s voice as she sings of a friend who had passed away. Although the premise is sad, the lyrics are positive and filled with acceptance as seen in the lines “I’m gonna celebrate you forever / And long to see you when it’s my turn / Go heavenward / Like all Earth angels should.”
Following after is Yuk Foo, a stark contrast to Heavenward. In an interview with Vevo, Rowsell explains that the song was left raw and unrefined to reflect the pure emotion that was captured in it. Undoubtedly the angriest song on the album, Yuk Foo does feel like a completely unfiltered emotional explosion as Rowsell’s voice shifts between apathetic monotony and fierce yelling with crashing instrumentals and heavy distortion to match. The anger is also evident in the lyrics as Rowsell has abandoned her usual poetic complexity to focus on her anger; “You bore me / You bore me to death, well deplore me / No I don’t give a s**t”. ‘Beautifully Unconventional‘ shifts the mood from furious to pleasant and introduces a retro pop vibe with playful guitars bouncing under Rowsell’s voice as she sings with whimsy; “Hannah! She lives! She breathes! / She’s beautifully unconventional / She seems to be from the best place in the world / Must be the best place in the world“.
Rowsell doesn’t disappoint fans of the band’s lovey-dovey songs with ‘Don’t Delete the Kisses‘, a vulnerable track that details the feelings of uncertainty and insecurity that comes with crushes. Rowsell almost whispers hurried lyrics “When I see you, the whole world reduces to just that room / And then I remember and I’m shy that gossip’s eye will look too soon / And then I’m trapped, overthinking / And yeah, probably self-doubt / You tell me to get over it and to take you out / But I can’t, I’m too scared“, hiding her voice under layers of instrumentals, emphasising the shyness of the lyrics. Meanwhile, the chorus shifts into a satisfying full circle as the song starts with ‘What if it’s not meant for me? Love’ and ends with ‘Me and you were meant to be in love‘.
Meanwhile, ‘Formidable Cool‘ describes the typical toxic f***boy that hangs out at local clubs, luring innocents into his trap with a deceiving ‘formidable cool’ persona. From the opening guitar riff alone listeners can already picture him in their minds, all leather jacket and neon-blue lights. The lyrics seem to shift between an omniscient perspective on the situation, almost scolding the one who fell for the trap; “If you knew it was all an act / Then what are you crying for? / Yeah if you knew it was all an act / Then why are you crying,” as well as first-person as the victim herself; “What did you think when you saw us? / I thought it’d be fun / I believed what he taught us / I believed in love“, showing the turmoil within herself upon realising that she had been tricked.
Closing the album is the title track ‘Visions of a Life‘, perfectly showcasing Wolf Alice’s brilliance both lyrically and musically. Deeply introspective lyrics that encompass several layers of thought are carried through the air by grungey instrumentals, giving the whole song a dream-like vibe. The lyrics song begins with a feeling of morbidity and dread of existence; “I’m a curse to my friends, to be condemned / Mistakes I made and won’t mend / Fear of crashing and not coming back.” The track then progresses into longing for the imagined daydreams that are notoriously more fulfilling than real life; “Visions of a life / Where I was satisfied / Feed my hungry mind,” followed by a sense of frustration with the bland patterns of social norms; “Why do I feel so strange / A nuclear family and friends my own age / I follow the rules, do what it says on the tin / But I’m still on the outside looking in.” Finally, there is a sense of determination and motivation to escape the boring routines to search for something in life with meaning and reject society’s expectations; “I heard that journeys end in lovers meeting / But my journey ends when my heart stops beating / I’m leaving / Human heart in my hand.”
Overall, Wolf Alice has become a beacon for those who have grown tired of norms and repetition. Whether it’s in the context of stagnating music scenes or the tiring routines that everyday life demands, they show that following pointless and outdated rules isn’t mandatory, and challenges listeners to follow suit. With a sound that seems to be in constant juxtaposition, they invite others to pay attention to all parts of themselves, both the good and the ugly, and turn the parts they don’t like into strengths they can celebrate as real, raw, unfiltered human beings.