Wolf Alice, like its name implies, is a mixed bag. The indie rock four-piece started as an outlet for Ellie Rowsell and Joff Oddie to test coffee shop songs, but in a matter of months it began to swell into something larger, then something grungier, and then something poppy. Hype chased the north London band for the next four years, yet they never seemed affected by it in interviews. On their debut full-length, however, the pressure of popularity sets in.
My Love Is Cool is full of fiery grunge pop. The crisscrossing guitars in “Giant Peach” chase something you can’t quite see before hurling themselves into a train wreck. Then there’s the polished riffs of “You’re A Germ”, a youthful attempt at a riotous love letter. On the album’s snarling single, “Moaning Lisa Smile”, Rowsell’s cheeky vocals directly contradict the song’s floor-shaking volume and barrel-scratching tone. Wolf Alice dares the guitars to challenge the emotion in their vocals.
At times, they get lost in the challenge. The band’s previously released version of “Bros” saw guitars at the forefront holding Rowsell’s vocals up behind them. On the album version, her vocals are hard to escape, dolled up in heavy reverb and mixed right to the front. “Bros” is still a concise pop song, but its driving energy gets toned down too many notches.
Grit aside, Wolf Alice have a knack for writing pop hooks, and their songs are sturdy enough to let them play around with glitter. Indie rock sentimentality takes a back seat in hits like “Freazy” and “Lisbon”. The former wades in Charli XCX territory, batting its lashes while trotting to a tight drum beat, while the latter whips its sugary licks to make its firecracker guitar solos all the more dazzling. Harmonies come easy to the four-piece, and My Love Is Cool is their cool kid strut down the high school runway.
Wolf Alice makes deliberate moves on My Love Is Cool, trying to live up to that last word in the album’s title. The 12-song tracklist is full of individual gems, but would have better highlighted their songwriting strengths if trimmed. “Silk” goes on too long and “Soapy Water” is a stale reflection of itself, spiraling nowhere in a hazy sleepwalk. Though the album lacks concision, it supplies plenty of unpredictability. From the whimsical opener “Turn to Dust” to the brave, heartfelt ballad “Swallowtail”, My Love Is Cool keeps you guessing — and swooning.
Essential Tracks: “Moaning Lisa Smile”, “Giant Peach”, and “Freazy”