Okay, let’s see if I can do this. I’m inexplicably exhausted today, yet somehow still holding onto some tepid motivation, as well as a few bits of wits about me. So I’m going to narrow my semi-depleted focus, and try tackling this Wolf Alice post that I’ve been itching to pen and post for the past few weeks.
Admittedly, for one reason or another, this London fourpiece has eluded my awareness, both recently, and for the duration of their decade-long career. Maybe I confused them with Wolfmother, Wolf Parade, or any of those other Wolf bands out there, none of which truly captured my interest. Although, I will say the first in that list featured the song “Woman” in a Target commercial I made. Not sure if that’s a ringing endorsement. But it is a connection.
Anyway, the short of it is that I bypassed the birth and rise of Wolf Alice, and their uniquely alternative slant on dream grunge and psych-folk. But as these things go, if you opt for the Zen approach, everything happens when it needs to. And that’s how I stumbled upon the track “St. Purple & Green,” from their increasingly likeable 2017 album “Visions of a Life.”
It was during a late afternoon run, when this anthemic tune shuffled into my ears, catching me completely off guard. At full airpod volume, which is how I block out the external world, I experienced this ’90s alt-rock altercation in full immersion, slinging sonics betwixt whispered dream states and epic guitar grinds. It came across like a cordial tug-o-war between wispy ethereality and whirlpool grunge, each vying for the tempo I’d adopt for the remainder of my sprint.
Fortunately, as these things go, I struck a balance and a bookmark, adding it to the playlist for future exploration, as well as repeated listens, which I did do on this particular run.
And now that I’ve had some time to let the notes sink in, I think my main and current takeaway is Ellie Rowsell’s evanescent voice. She kind of reminds me of the early ’90s alternative sirens that dabbled in the saturnalia of spirited motifs, crafting soft soothes of clarity that could surf the shoegaze, ride the dream-pop, and fuel the folk-rock, all with cool stabs of understated and electrifying strength.
Check out “St. Purple & Green,” which curiously wasn’t released as a single, and slots later at an unassuming number 10 amongst the 12 tracks on “Visions of a Life.”
“St. Purple & Green” from the 2017 album “Visions of a Life.”
While sifting through the thoughts on my approach to Wolf Alice, I ran across a more recent, as in 2020, track that clarified my subconscious musings towards some of the qualities I was just describing, particularly concerning Rowsell’s vocal sway. This one’s titled “Teenage Headache Dreams,” and it’s a collaboration with Guernsey-born electronic artist Mura Masa.
Now, I can go either way with Mura Masa, a.k.a. Alex Crossan. His music’s cool and clever enough, a kind of indie mix and mash-up of revivalist/interpretive disco, hip-hop, R&B and pop. He holds a lot of flavors, which work brilliantly, when they do. But sometimes it can all be a bit much, like when a simple dish has one too many ingredients.
Anyway, that’s not the case here. And that’s all that matters. “Teenage Headache Dreams” takes the indie pop route, and mostly stays the course. Crossan’s toned vocals lead the track, a measured counterpoint for Rowsell’s utter sun-bright brilliance, which ultimately elevates the tune to full shine and shimmer. I liken her moments to a clearing of a fog, an emergence of warm comforts and innocent celebration.
The tune is an uppity little pop number that, in and of itself, plays simplistic and agreeable enough. It’s percussive and propulsive, and sets a bright and proper mood, but really exists for the vocal melodies to lead the way. And as stated, they do.
Here’s “Teenage Headache Dreams,” which feels less migraine-worthy, thanks to Rowsell’s expressly ethereal tenor.
The 2020 collaboration between Wolf Alice and Mura Masa “Teenage Headache Dreams.”
I’ve got one more Wolf Alice track to top off this semi-stream of conscious post. It’s a volatile little alt-folk blast of grunge and groove titled “Moaning Lisa Smile,” dating back to the earlier era of 2014 with the EP “Creature Songs.” It also made the cut on their striking and somewhat mercurial 2015 debut LP “My Love is Cool,” garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance in the process.
I’ve included it because it really brings me back to the ’90s guitar-laden grunge scene, whether that’s intentional, or not. It’s got the inescapable essence of the era, slightly punk, hints of metal, mostly rock, showcasing the rough and ready strengths of the four-piece, completed by guitarist Joff Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey.
That’s all I got for today. There’s plenty more Wolf Alice where all this came from, much of which I’m still discovering … but all of which I really, really like. For now, here’s my third and final recommend, “Moaning Lisa Smile,” with an extra added music video bonus. Stay safe and enjoy!
“Moaning Lisa Smile” from the 2014 EP “Creature Songs.” The single also features on their 2015 full-length debut “My Love is Cool.”