London’s Wolf Alice spent much of 2013 sporadically blowing our minds: from “Bros” to “White Leather”, the ‘rocky pop’ foursome were on the warpath, bringing their arsenal of grunge axes, fey rage and folk-pop hooks along for the ride. Their debut EP – Blush – was released in November, and while the past six or so months hasn’t been long enough for them to whittle a full-length, they’ve found themselves on the cusp of their second EP, Creature Songs.
On the surface, there’s a newfound maturity. They’ve graduated from the hype-magnet mould and flourished, demonstrating a wealth of worldly wisdom. It’s a remarkable jolt forwards. Wolf Alice weren’t exactly infants, toddling with instruments from the Early Learning Centre, but there was a frivolity and joyous, youthful energy – they were singing about things like friendship and love, for example – that Creature Songs lacks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and from that void they’ve discovered a sinister bitterness and frustrated fury within them that slots into the grunge-y sounds they peddle. There’s flecks of The Joy Formidable there now, with bone-shakingly loud six-stringer thrashing and then gerbil-whisper quiet strumming; there’s a fascination with dynamic variation that’s much more overt than before.
Sure, there’s still plenty of rawkin’ patches where they shred like Audioslave or Pearl Jam, which should give volume junkies a fix. They lace it with anthemic qualities though – there’s all these chunky chords on “Moaning Lisa Smile” that are doused in reverb and Smashing Pumpkins-esque stadium pomp. There’s also a vocal motif that bears an strange resemblance to pop-punk vapour, The Academy Is…’ “We’ve Got A Big Mess On Our hands” (does anyone else remember them existing?
The strongest moments on Creature Songs are when they hark back to their pre-rhythm-section skeletal guitar-pop, like the semi-acoustic “We’re Not The Same” or “Heavenly Creatures”, which stands out as an EP highlight. On the latter, the verse wields one of those rare viral melodies that just might need exorcising. The bassline is refreshingly inspired, lolloping up and down the frets in front of the twinkle of backing guitar rather than instinctively behind it, as most guitar-centric bands tend to do. Nope, it’s not mere roots for Wolf Alice. “Heavenly Creatures” is a wonderful track in every possible way – from the opening mini-mondegreen: “We laughed at bitches [pictures, obvs] in our passports,” to the atmospheric chamber-pop barrage in the chorus, flicking the timbre from dusty-ribcage sparse to fuzzy-duvet thick in a heartbeat.
Wolf Alice are growing at a welcome-yet-abnormal rate; it’s never a problem when an act proffers something beyond their years, but at this rate there’s a danger that the band might reverse-Benjamin Button (so, like, just age normally) until we hear them reeling off Cab Calloway covers. Actually that’d be incredibly cool, so perhaps it’d be wise to just let Wolf Alice go Wolf Alicing. They seem to know what they’re doing anyway.