Wolf Alice are not stupid. Formed in 2010 by lead singer Ellie Rowsell with guitarist Joff Oddie and named after a short story by Angela Carter (that Ellie stole from the school library), Wolf Alice have taken four years to hone their craft and build their fanbase in order to release a debut album that is currently on course to reach number one in the official albums chart.
Their first full-length release, My Love Is Cool, follows two stop-gap EPs in 2013’s Blush and 2014’s Creature Songs, with these EPs proving to be buzz-building stepping stones allowing them to reach the commercial success that their debut album is currently reaping. However, a number one album can’t just be achieved by the music alone – promotion and exposure are key supplementing factors in hitting the top spot. This is where Wolf Alice have done their dirty work. As well as tearing up toilet venues on the underground circuit, they’ve played massive corporate venues supporting innocuous, wishy-washy pop-rock bands such as Alt-J and The 1975 as a way of broadening their fanbase.
The opportunity to support Alt-J undoubtedly came through drummer Joel Amey‘s connections to the band – his pre-Wolf Alice band, Mafia Lights, contained to-be members of Alt-J, as well as Swim Deep. Amey was the lead signer of laid-back Mafia Lights, and his swooning coos provide perfect back-up vocals to Rowsell’s yearning howl throughout the album. If album charts were determined by the music alone, then Wolf Alice would surely still be at the top.
The album itself is a fresh-sounding hodge-podge of grunge and pop-folk. Opening track Turn To Dust is deceptive, alluding to a soft sound throughout, akin to their prior EPs, but, as the album develops it becomes apparent that this beast has more bite. You’re A Germ, a venomous tirade against some “dodgy fucker” that “ain’t going to heaven“, is where things start to become interesting. It packs the biggest punch of the album, and it’s the angriest thing Wolf Alice have released to date.
Another distinctive development in Wolf Alice‘s sound apart from the new-found bitter edge is the reliance on production in order to create a smart, professional album from start to finish. This can be seen in the re-recording of the second track Bros in order to embrace synths, a controversial move that has been vastly unpopular with some fans, but, when put into perspective while looking at the album as a whole, it works. The old version wouldn’t have flowed well in this album. The same problem arises for Swallowtail, sung by drummer Amey and sounding like a throwback to his Mafia Lights salad days. It’s a nice enough song on its own, but a token acoustic Amey-sung song just doesn’t sound at home on the glitter-coated fangs of My Love Is Cool.
Giant Peach, the album’s first single, is an after hours summer hit. It’s euphoric and successfully blends grunge with subtle elements of psychedelia to create one of the best songs of the year. Lisbon is a forlorn, lust-filled anthem as lead singer Rowsell wistfully whispers “You’re going to look at me twice, it’s eventual/You’re there when you’re not ’cause I’m smoking your menthols” and “swallow the fear, my stone-cold fox” before a grunge-y breakdown resulting in one of the album’s standout tracks.
Ahead of festival season, there’s been a lot of talk about how male-dominated this year’s bills seem to be. Jenny Stevens wrote an article for The Guardian that analysed the gender split of the artists on all of the major festivals – Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds, Isle of Wight et al – and it found that 2,336 men were to perform juxtaposed to just 270 women. This means that young women have very little encouragement and inspiration when it comes to picking up an instrument for themselves – the institutionally sexist music industry alienates female musicians and aspiring female musicians alike.
This is why Wolf Alice are so important right now. Lead singer Ellie Rowsell is a contemporary inspiration and, dare I say, role model. With a horrendously male-orientated festival season looming, the rise of Wolf Alice couldn’t have come at a better time, as they continue to rise up the festival bills and sell out bigger and bigger venues as a headlining act. I haven’t heard such a confident and accomplished debut album in recent times, and for a talented female musician like Rowsell to spearhead an up-and-coming buzz band and gain enough exposure to top charts without being objectified as the majority of chart-topping females seem to be is a testament to the strength of this debut album.