Since the release of their debut album in 2015, Wolf Alice has been one of those “big in England” bands who are massive in their home country, leading awards shows and winning best album prizes, while they remain relatively under the radar in the U.S.
Ten years into their career, the British quartet’s masterful latest album, “Blue Weekend” — out today (June 4) on Dirty Hit-RCA — may take them out of that category. With flashes of Blur, labelmates the 1975, Radiohead and even Abba, it’s one of the most fully realized long-players of the year.
Wolf Alice took their time recording the follow-up to their Mercury Prize-winning second album “Visions of a Life,” and the extra effort shows.
“The first album [‘Our Love Is Cool’], I think, we just bashed through everything,” bassist Theo Ellis tells Variety. “We get kind of anxious when we’re trying to be like, ‘Where is the record in all of this?’ Pleasing each other and our expectations is the more important thing, but you can’t deny that there’s probably pressure for being nominated for things or various forms of success.”
True to form, Wolf Alice blitz through a number of genres on “Blue Weekend.” Its first single, “Last Man on the Earth,” is an introspection on human arrogance over a piano track that swells into a choir-infused rock ballad. In line with “VOAL’s” “Yuk Foo” and “MLIC’s” “You’re a Germ,” frontwoman Ellie Rowsell sends a full throttle kiss of with “Smile.” She then puts into action the sensitivity she sings of on “Smile” (“I believe it is the perfect adjective”) on the third single “No Hard Feelings,” in which she realizes the peace in releasing yourself from heartbreak and bitterness over an ex.
“Someone said somehow it sounds simpler, yet bigger and more widescreen,” drummer Joel Amey says. “There’s elements of this record, like Joff’s guitar playing or Ellie’s lyrics or the synth sounds or things which I feel like maybe we didn’t touch upon on previous records. But it’s very much still us.”
Part of Wolf Alice’s evolution included working with producer Markus Dravs, whose credits include Arcade Fire, Coldplay and Florence + the Machine. This meant getting used to Dravs’ requirement that they justify what they were doing with their songs.
“It just takes you a minute to gel, especially when you’re working on something which is an emotion-based kind of project like a record,” Amey explains. “We learned things off Marcus, definitely. I think it also highlighted how we like to work and put faith back in our strengths in the studio, as well. We do like making songs with loads of shit in it. That is fun for us to put loads of different things and delicious things. More is more.”
Wolf Alice finished touring for “VOAL” in December 2018 and thereafter took some time off from their band duties. Development of “Blue Weekend” officially kicked off when the quartet got together in Somerset, England to write and share ideas. They then made their way back to work in a studio in Tottenham in north London, where they stayed until it came time to record the album in Brussels. The band arrived in Belgium in January 2020, just before worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns set in, and did not return home until later in the spring.
“I think it is a testament to how songwriting done right, when it’s really, really, really powerful, sometimes you don’t need a lot in a song, to make it engaging, and that doesn’t have a lot in it,” guitarist Joff Oddie said of “No Hard Feelings,” their third single. “In that case, less is more.”
In “Blue Weekend,” Roswell finds particular strength in vulnerability, though the execution manifests differently all over the album as exemplified by the three singles. Late album track “Feeling Myself” has a sultry twist and for Amey, it’s “one of my favorite things we’ve done sonically and emotionally.” It made its way off the chopping block after being tested over the lap dance scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof.” Unhidden by metaphors or witty turns-of-phrase, Roswell sings, “You could watch me as I feel myself.”
“I do find a kind of solace in performing,” Roswell says of her natural reserved-ness, which has often been noted of by the press. “[The stage is] just a really unique place to be in. Your anxieties go out the window a little bit, and sometimes those anxieties are far more discerning than performing in front of thousands of people, for some bizarre reason. So it’s nice — sometimes.”
Next week, Roswell and company will make their return to the stage with an acoustic set at Picturehouse Central in London where they will also debut their film counterpart to “Blue Weekend” from director Jordan Hemingway. Their official gigs kick off later this summer at Latitude Festival in July and Reading and Leeds Festival in August. They then will have their own string of tour dates throughout the U.S. in the fall and then around the United Kingdom and Ireland in January 2022.
When the four bandmates reflect on their favorite songs from “Blue Weekend,” their choices tend to skew toward the tender ones. But with the return of live music, their favor might change.
“If we had gigs on the horizon, we might all be saying ‘Play the Greatest Hits,’” Ellis says. “We are unconsciously probably affecting our choices with what’s coming up, and it’s not mosh pits and really bad jet lag from touring too much. It’s Zoom and a panic attack on June 4,” he laughs.
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