Guitar-driven pop-rock by Toronto's Alvvays (pictured) plus The Beaches, 54-40, the Revivalists and Dua Lipa
Readers’ Choice 2022
Part 9
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Toronto-based band Alvvays topped contributor Michael Jenner’s music list last year


Vancouver contributors Michael Jenner and Harvey McKinnon both have a love for guitar-driven pop and rock. And both have put a couple of energetic, Juno Award-winning, Toronto-based bands at the top of their respective lists.

Jenner writes about the long-awaited and acclaimed third album from Alvvays (pronounced always), Blue Rev. Their second album, Anti-Socialites, won the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year in 2017.

McKinnon introduces four songs and bands he listened to a lot this year including all-woman group The Beaches. The band won Junos in 2022 for Rock Album of the Year and in 2018 for Breakthrough Group of the Year.

The 5th Annual Readers’ Choice

Kurated readers share their favourite music of the last year in the annual Readers’ Choice series. Anything musical is welcomed whether its new, an old favourite, something self-composed and more. Thanks to all the contributors!

Kris Sig Plastic V3

28 January 2023

Harvey McKinnon
Vancouver, BC

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Topping contributor Harvey McKinnon’s list, Toronto band The Beaches got together in 2013 and came out with Late Show, their first album, in 2017. They’ve won two Juno Awards: Breakthrough Group of the Year (2018) and Rock Album of the Year (2022).

4-song Playlist

Among the songs I’ve listened to most often this year:
1. Blow Up by The Beaches
2. Sublime Like Me by 54-40
3. All My Friends by The Revivalists
4. Physical by Dua Lipa

About Harvey: Harvey McKinnon started deejaying at university 50 years ago, and continues to program dance parties to this day. WARNING: he always tries to control the music at any party he is invited to. Frequently seen dancing in the wild, or writing books, he runs a fundraising consultancy that works with 25 great non-profits in Canada and the USA.

Michael Jenner
Vancouver, BC

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Molly Rankin from Toronto’s Alvvays playing in Seattle last October touring behind new album, Blue Rev

Blue Rev by Alvvays – Full Album

My favourite album of 2022 is Blue Rev by Alvvays (pronounced Always), the long-awaited follow-up to their Juno Award-winning Antisocialites. The five-piece Toronto band has received numerous accolades for Blue Rev. Exclaim! named it the best album of the year; Pitchfork ranked it third, and Lindsay Zoladz at The New York Times placed it seventh.

Alvvays’ music has been described as inverted shoegaze and power pop. The band’s songwriters, Molly Rankin and Alec O’Hanley, have been open about their fascination with 1980s and early ‘90s music, especially the Smiths, My Bloody Valentine and Glasgow cult band, Teenage Fanclub. If Alvvays has a formula to their music, it’s combining Rankin’s achingly beautiful voice with O’Hanley’s guitar distortion.

It has not been a smooth road to success for Alvvays. Blue Rev, named after a sugary alcoholic drink Rankin and keyboardist Kerri MacLellen drank as teens growing up on Cape Breton Island, comes a full five years after Antisocialites.

Ironically, Rankin, daughter of John Morris Rankin, a member of the award-winning 1990s group the Rankin Family, and O’Hanley began writing songs for the album back in 2017. But Alvvays suffered a series of setbacks. Their initial demos were stolen in a burglary; a basement flood damaged their musical equipment, and they had to replace their bassist and drummer.

Their biggest setback, however, was the U.S.-Canada border closure, which prevented their new stateside rhythm section, bassist Abbey Blackwell and drummer Sheridan Riley, from travelling to Toronto to practice.

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In a music industry dominated by hip-hop and rap, electric guitar music has been declared dead for over a decade. Alvvays is a welcome exception.

But it wasn’t just setbacks that led to the lengthy gestation of Blue Rev. Just like My Bloody Valentine before them, Alvvays are known as perfectionists, a term Molly Rankin has shied away from.

“I mean, I wouldn’t use the word perfect,” she said in an interview. Still, she admits that creating their songs is an exacting and challenging process.

“There is a world that we insist on inhabiting, and to get into that world it takes a lot of time,” she said, “It takes a lot of work to make things sound rough, and pretty, and strange and familiar.”

When Alvvays finally assembled with Canadian producer Shawn Everett in Los Angeles in October, 2021, they employed a rigorous recording schedule, playing the album front to back with 15-second breaks between songs and a half-hour pause between album takes.

One of the things that stands out in Alvvays’ music is Molly Rankin’s poignant and often cutting lyrics. On Pharmacist, the hypnotic and propulsive opening track, Rankin sings: “I know you’re back/I saw your sister at the pharmacy, picking up/Said you had that new love glow”.

On the moody shoegaze song, Easy on Your Own, she sings: “I waited so long for you/Wasted some of the best years of my life/And I wanted to see it through”.

It isn’t just music that has influenced Alvvays. Rankin has also cited writers Alice Munro and Haruki Murakami as influences; in fact, their song After the Earthquake is based on Murakami’s short-story collection After the Quake.

Other highlights on Blue Rev are the propulsive and hard-hitting Tom Verlaine, named after the founder of the influential late ‘70s New York band Television, and Pomeranian Spinster.

In these times when the music industry is dominated by hip-hop and rap, electric guitar music has been declared dead for over a decade. Thankfully (or, more accurately, mercifully), Alvvays’ Blue Rev proves otherwise.

About Michael: I’m a huge music fan and will listen to everything from Kate Bush to the Notorious B.I.G

Full Album on YouTube

Live Performance on KEXP