If originality really is the measure by which we evaluate art, then authenticity must surely be a close second. For British workhorses Wolf Alice, you could build a case for the former; the latter is tough to refute. The four-piece go for a little bit of everything on their debut album, My Love Is Cool. It is a tremendously self-assured introduction, both in terms of songwriting and scope. You can call it eclectic, or you can call it unfocused. What seems inarguable is that Wolf Alice have more ideas than they know what to do with, and they deploy them with an uncommon confidence. Not everything hits the mark, but that would be a ridiculous expectation for a group this callow.
Wolf Alice have reached back two generations for the core of their sound — grunge with some melodic punch – and adorned it with slick production values. Mike Crossey, who has produced for some of Britain’s bigger pop-rock acts, is behind the boards here. Rather than temper Wolf Alice’s raw, scattershot energy, he chooses to amplify it. Sounds are polished or stripped down on the basis of need. It’s about whatever best suits the song, rather than the album as a whole. You can hear fragments of literally dozens of bands among these tunes. Everyone from modern British acts like Foals and the xx, to underground heroes My Bloody Valentine and Pixies, to glossy pop peddlers Passion Pit and Blue Foundation pops up at one time or another.
While it sounds great, My Love Is Cool is also emotionally rich, equally melancholy and temperamental. There are fist-pumping, rebellious catchphrases (“You can hate us all you want, but it don’t mean nothing at all”), heartbreaking admissions (“I let your love take me/Now I am your love’s whore/Keep me hardly breathing/But I can only love you more”) and fist-pumping nonsense (“Tired of waiting for the bus to nowhere/Tired of chasing the stone fox”). While certain tracks can get a little morose (looking at you “Silk”), the overall message is one of renewable optimism.
This is no more prevalent than on the sparkling single “Bros”, which has actually been around since mid-2013. Ellie Rowsell’s voice is kicked around between fluorescent guitars and clangorous percussion, and the outcome is both uplifting and anthemic. “Freazy” strikes a similar tone, dancing between Beach House’s skeletal dream pop and Haim’s polyrhythmic sass. The riffs from “Giant Peach” and “Fluffy” wouldn’t sound out of place on 80s college radio, but there’s a 21 century sensibility to how the band elects to frame them. “Your Love’s Whore” is the album’s thorniest flower; you can hear the agony in Rowsell’s wordless vocal hook, the joy in the soaring riff that follows, and the ambivalence in the lyrics.
Wolf Alice borrow freely from other acts, but it’s hard to think of any other debut in recent memory that has internalized the musical landscape, past and present, with such savvy. They are a product of their environment, no question, but melding and amalgamating your influences without sounding like you’re aping anyone speaks to how capable they are of jumping between styles. My Love Is Cool is volatile, but it’s also invigorating, charming, and hugely exciting for what it promises. It’s not the debut of the year, but in its best moments, My Love Is Cool comes close.