Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell has an ethereal voice akin to Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser, one that would be in danger of drifting away were it not tethered to the might of her band. That lacy dreaminess is balanced by a ferociously heavy sonic wall, making for a sound that defies easy categorization. It’s made even more difficult by Visions Of A Life, the London quartet’s sophomore release, which varies that sound from song to song. While that kind of thing can be jarring (look to Alt-J’s latest, for example), Rowsell’s voice provides a surreally dreamlike connecting thread.
Epic opener “Heavenward” finds Rowsell’s voice dissolving into a sonic mix that’s just north of cacophonous, while lead single “Yuk Foo” ramps up the speed and intensity as she rattles off a stream of punk profanity (“I want to fuck all the people I meet / Fuck all my friends and all the people in the street ’cos / You bore me / You bore me to death / Well deplore me / Well I don’t give a shit”). The more complex compositions, like “Don’t Delete The Kisses” and “Planet Hunter,” are much more representative—the former finding Rowsell using a cool speak-sing, while the latter’s layered vocals evoke the sharply sweet harmonies of Veruca Salt.
With references to heavens and planets running throughout, Rowsell’s poetry-journal lyrics face decidedly skyward. “Sky Musings” contemplates eternity from the vantage point of an airplane seat; “Formidable Cool” feels like a lost song from the 1983 Liquid Sky soundtrack, bolstered by some unexpectedly twangy guitars.
She gazes inward, too: “Sadboy” is one of those this-isn’t-ending-up-where-we-thought-it-would tracks, scolding its titular boy with an anthemic mantra of a chorus. “St. Purple & Green” kicks off with a gospel chorus line before segueing into the prettiest ode Rowsell offers—that is, at least, until “After The Zero Hour,” which sounds like the sort of folky reverie composed by a young woman daydreaming on a Woodstock hill.
Visions Of A Life ends with its title track, a welcome bookend to the opener that finds Rowsell’s devilishly angelic chorus again threaded with as many guitar and drum tracks the band can layer, before blessedly falling to earth. In lesser hands, this kind of sonic disparity could be chaotic and confusing—but with Rowsell’s voice as the guiding light, Visions is a captivating, enjoyable ride.