In 2014, Toronto indiepop band Alvvays (pronounced “Always”) released their self-titled debut LP on Polyvinyl Records. Typically, naming a record after your musical project’s moniker is a daring move, one that signifies your allegiance to the product: this is who we are, thank you for your time. Doing it with a debut is even riskier—it’s rare that an artist comes out of the gate swinging with an idiosyncratic form, but the few who hit, hit hard. For Alvvays, it was a song called “Archie, Marry Me,” that three years after its initial release remains an indie staple of sorts. If you’ve been to a two hundred-plus capacity indie rock venue in the years since, you’ve certainly heard the ascending, longing anthem between sets, a song that distracts in just how dang delightful it is—you almost miss the desperation in the song’s message. “Archie” floats around a desire to salvage love and make it malleable, to the point in which its protagonist idolizes a partner who doesn’t see eye-to-eye. You almost miss that a soft voice is asking for a ring from someone who will absolutely not, under any circumstance, put a ring on it.
Now the band is preparing to release their sophomore offering, the perfectly titled Antisocialites. It’s 32 minutes of indiepop bliss. Even in its darkest moments, Antisocialites feels like an extension of their self-titled release, not only in its expansive sound (they’ve made their hazy guitars sounds dreamier, larger) but also with its narrative. This record feels like the breakup that inevitably follows “Archie, Marry Me,” when a relationship unravels due to irreparable and irreconcilable differences. It’s more aching in the opening track, “In Undertow,” where frontwoman Molly Rankin croons, “You made a mistake you’d like to erase and I understand,” later realizing, “There’s no turning back after what’s been said.”
Much of the record plays to that theme—heartbreak and the dissolution and disappointment of a romance—while never succumbing to the indie trappings of sounding miserable. This is joyous music, a despondent dance, a cathartic release. “Your Type” is built around ascending verses that slow on the upsetting choral repetition of “I’ll never be your type,” but still inspires movement. That duality is no new thing in pop music, but when it’s executed well, it’s a powerful choice and Alvvays are meticulous in their execution: there’s a line in there about getting kicked out of the Louvre for taking a picture in front of the Mona Lisa, it’s ridiculously adorable and painful.
Indiepop, often inaccurately, is read a synonym for “twee,” a word that’s been co-opted by other elements of pop culture words and commerce, essentially diluting its original meaning. But it’s also something that feels oddly fitting for Alvvays: Three years ago (almost so coincidental it shouldn’t be considered unconscious, the same year Alvvays released their debut album and the single that would make their career, “Archie, Marry Me”) the late, beloved music and pop culture critic Mark Spitz released what would become his final book, Twee: The Gentle Revolution in Music, Books, Television, Fashion & Film. People (of the internet variety, mostly) were outraged before even touching a copy, solely for its supposed treatment of an ill-defined musical genre signifier as some greater movement, as if twee were a modern stand-in for punk and treated like a four-letter curse…exactly the way punk was before becoming globally accepted as a music and a movement. The final step is, of course, commodification.
There are many apt comparisons that can be made between the two, twee and punk, but twee—based on Spitz’s interpretation—has always felt a bit more dangerous. Where punk and hip hop, sister genres of real democratic modernity, were started by creatives of all different backgrounds who came together with an interest in a like-minded political ideology and radical sound(s), birthed in areas of low-socioeconomic status oppressed by the powers they so fervently rallied against in their art because art meant survival and expression, twee is a college-educated movement. Perhaps not intentional in aim, but Portlandia, or Zooey Deschanel, or Belle & Sebastian or whatever else is considered by Spitz’s book to be “twee,” evokes images of well-to-do white folks in quality blouses and tasteful cardigans who’ve received some kind of higher education. Twee doesn’t inherently exist because of survival, but its simple jubilation, and pastel pleasures can be read introspectively. Its ethos is based on the individual, privileged experience. For that reason, it makes sense that it would be referred to as “gentle.” Twee isn’t asking for revolution, it’s hoping to bring joy. It’s beautiful, truly sunshine-y—but does lend itself to the question of enjoyment. Regardless of those characteristics, music is universal, but not all types of music are universal. Twee’s not for everyone—songs about getting kicked out of the Louvre and unraveling relationships will not resonate the same way to those citizens who fight for their right to their own autonomy daily.
Alvvays’ Antisocalities is a joyous record. It does feel like the product of a white, college-educated world, because it is—and that does not undermine it, or indiepop, or however twee can be defined. It only reflects a certain kind of privilege, one much more complicated than what can be illustrated here. But in some ways, Alvvays serve to subvert the idea that Twee is irresponsible, or at the very least, inherently uninterested in political revolution. Songs this candid about heartbreak, when written and sang by femme-identifying peoples, is almost always marginalized by audiences that lack empathy. When Rankin sings about wanting to get married, shitty dudes who imagine her as another crazy bride could easily deride her. But she makes her (or more accurately, her singing persona’s) desires known, stands by them, and documents every excruciating detail of the breakup on Antisocialites. That’s brave. Hell, that’s punk. It doesn’t hurt that the music has a way of lodging itself into your heart, too.
Maria Sherman is a music and culture writer living in Philadelphia. She’s a contributing editor at the Talkhouse and contributes regularly to places like Rolling Stone, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, MTV, Billboard and more. She most recently held the title of Senior Correspondent at Fuse Media and before that, worked to build BuzzFeed’s music vertical.