Wolf Alice – Their 12 Best Songs | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, November 29th, 2023  

Wolf Alice in 2017

Wolf Alice – Their 12 Best Songs

Our Favorite Tracks from One of Britain’s Premier Bands

Jul 21, 2022 Photography by Koury Angelo (for Under the Radar)
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With three critically acclaimed albums, three EPs, and 20 or so singles, England’s Wolf Alice have come a long way since founding members Ellie Rowsell and Joff Oddie met online and began performing at open mic sessions. They officially became Wolf Alice in 2010, taking their name from the story of Wolf-Alice as featured in Angela Carter’s modern feminist classic The Bloody Chamber.

Before long Rowsell and Oddie wanted to flesh out their sound and recruited Rowsell’s childhood friend Sadie Cleary on bass and Oddie’s pal James DC on drums. However, in 2012 DC broke his wrist, which saw Joel Amey step in. Later in the same year Cleary left to pursue a career in nursing and was replaced by Theo Ellis on bass.

The band have since become an irresistible force, selling out venues around the UK and beyond as well as producing show-stopping performances at the likes of Glastonbury and Coachella. Along the way they have been Grammy-nominated, won a Mercury Prize for best album (Visions of a Life) and this year, to the chagrin of Little Mix fans, they were crowned best group at the BRIT Awards. And it’s all been achieved by hard work, the ability to craft some of the best songs released over the past decade and the word-of-mouth buzz surrounding their incredible live performances.

Their ascent has been richly deserved and personally, as a huge fan since the early days, it’s been a joy to watch. They are without a doubt my favorite “new” band to have emerged over the last decade, and as such, you can expect objectivity to be defenestrated for the duration of this article. Let’s face it they’ve done rather well for a band who once described their music as “psychofreak poprock” and whose alternative career might have been in “admin.”

So how does one assemble a Top 10 list of Wolf Alice songs with so many incredible tunes to choose from? On any given day, I could have quite easily picked another 10 or 20. In fact we settled on a Top 12, as we couldn’t limit it to 10. That’s how good Wolf Alice are. So here goes…

1. “Bros” (2013 and 2015)

So which version is your favorite? The original or the re-recorded version? Personally, I love both. If they did another version I’d probably love that too. Even if they performed it on the kazoo. As mentioned, I’m not here to be objective, in my world, Wolf Alice can do no wrong (aside from supporting Arsenal. ;) ) The 2015 version re-recorded for the band’s debut album My Love Is Cool is perhaps less frenetic and overall it does have a slightly more sophisticated and rounded feel to it than the original. But it’s been gently finessed rather than furiously polished and as such looses none of its heart.

Wolf Alice seem to be able to traverse any given genre with an effortless grace that few bands can manage. “Bros” was another example of just how good they are. It’s a spiralling, majestic ode to friendship as Rowsell sings about her time growing up in North London with former bandmate Sadie Cleary. It demonstrates what a wonderfully warm, expressive voice Ellie Rowsell has, evoking the wistful nostalgia, and the joy of looking back at the unbreakable bonds forged in childhood.

Original version:

Re-recorded version:

2. “The Last Man on Earth” (2021)

This was the first taste of Wolf Alice’s third album, Blue Weekend. I can remember waiting for the premiere on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio One show, and wondering what to expect. Would it be grungy Wolf Alice, folky Wolf Alice, riot grrrl Wolf Alice, or synth poppy Wolf Alice? I was wrong on all counts. This was the cinematic wide-screen dream pop power ballad Wolf Alice, with Rowsell’s towering performance taking on a celestial quality and elevating the song to otherworldly heights.

With lyrics such as—“Every book you take and you dust off from the shelf/Has lines between lines between lines that you read about yourself/Does a light shine on you?”—it’s a song about the “arrogance of humans” in part provoked by a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 satire Cat’s Cradle. “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God,” is a quote from the book, referenced in the song’s opening lines: “Who are you to ask for anything more?/Do you wait for your dancing lessons to be sent from God?/You’d like his light to shine on you.” Rowsell explained, “Uh, your peculiar travel suggestion isn’t a dancing lesson from God—it’s just a travel suggestion! Why does everything need to mean something more?”

3. “Silk” (2015)

Another prime cut from the band’s debut and one which clearly garnered them more fans when it was used by Danny Boyle on the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack. It was inspired by the tragic life of American socialite Edie Sedgwick after Rowsell had read her biography.

The band joked that when recording it they imagined a Blanche DuBois (from A Streetcar Named Desire ) style character singing it and encouraged each other to “channel that Blanche DuBois.” I guess you had to be there, but it’s another beautifully atmospheric and emotionally intelligent track.

4. “Blush” (2013)

The title track from the band’s second release in 2013 and first for Chess Club Records, “Blush” demonstrated the band’s softer side. There’s a bittersweet undercurrent to “Blush” but as with much of their music, any sadness is tempered with a sense of hope and a feeling that the future will be brighter. Rowsell was once quoted as saying that their music was like a party and a hangover and “Blush” is certainly more reflective than some of their previous offerings. The lyric “Punch drunk, dumb struck, pot luck happy happy,” was hit upon by the band whilst opening pages in a dictionary and initially took different forms. It’s also a song often highlighted on fan forums as the number 1 track many wish the band would reinstate onto their set list again.

5. “Fluffy” (2013)

The deceptively titled “Fluffy” is anything but, it’s explosive, strident, and melodic, and is the sound of a band that appears to intuitively just “get it,” possessed with that rare uncontrived ability to make your spirit soar. A classic “official” debut single and the song that bassist Theo Ellis credits as being a kind of eureka moment when they were in rehearsal rooms in Holloway London. It was a time when everything started to fall into place, which gave them the confidence to push on and dream bigger dreams. The video is said to be about “boredom, misspent youth and a neutered cat.”

6. “How Can I Make It OK?” (2021)

Wolf Alice do soaring synth-pop. Well not quite, but this is a shimmering bittersweet cut from Blue Weekend is replete with slick guitar licks fluttering synths and crashing drums, which builds beautifully and features another stellar vocal performance from Rowsell showing her incredible range. It seems to be the center of a trilogy of songs on the album about a failing relationship that begins with “Safe From Heartbreak” and ends with “No Hard Feelings.”

7. “Giant Peach” (2015)

Wolf Alice’s fusion of grunge and “aggressive pop” proved to be a huge hit, and this is another firm live favorite. It’s driven by a relentless mosh-inducing instrumental riff and the vocals don’t even kick in until around the one and a half minute mark. When they do, Rowsell channels her inner riot grrrl quite brilliantly. It arrived with a superbly bonkers Spinal Tap-style mockumentary promo video featuring actor Tony Gardner (Last Tango in Halifax, My Parents Are Aliens) as a dodgy David Brent-cringe-style band manager. His skill set seems to be annoying the band, who it must be said do a rather fine job acting, and dreaming up a terrible music video which sees Wolf Alice reluctantly embracing a Robin Hood vibe. It also features a cameo from Ewen Macintosh (Keith from the original UK version of The Office) as the video director.

8. “Don’t Delete the Kisses” (2017)

One of the poppier moments on the band’s Mercury Prize-winning second album, Visions of a Life, highlights the band’s unerring ability to craft memorable pop hooks. With its chant-along chorus, this is what the band called “a hold-nothing-back love song.”

9. “Space & Time” (2017)

Perhaps this is a bit of an outlier as it often seems to be overlooked as part of Wolf Alice’s formidable canon despite being a single (and #1 in the singles vinyl chart) from Visions of a Life. But its propulsive energy and melody is irresistible, there’s something freeing and joyous about it. Rowsell has explained that the song was about “feeling anxious and trying not to feel anxious.”

The accompanying video, shot amongst picturesque landscapes in Portland, Maine, was directed by Rowsell, who also stars as the “runaway bride.” It certainly captures that sense of anxiety and wish to escape perfectly. She also explained more about the video and song via the band’s Instagram: “‘Space & Time’ is about being faced with life’s obstacles and knowing that at some point, you’ll be looking back on yourself at this moment in time and it won’t be as bad as it feels right now. If you’ve ever witnessed me trying to make a decision you’ll know this is a close issue to my heart lol! Anyway here’s a video we made for it about a girl who’s made a big decision. Don’t ask me what it was, I can never tell you! Those of u asking me how many times I fell over, however, the answer is none.”

10. Play The Greatest Hits” (2021)

One of Blue Weekend’‘s most unhinged moments. ““Play tThe Greatest Hits”” is the album’s shortest track, but it certainly packs a punch. It’s wild punk tharsh, acerbic lyrics, and Rowsell’‘s gloriousulsy committed and gleefully deranged delivery has made it another big live favourite and one in which the band certainly throw themselves into 100%. During the Blue Weekend Tim Burgess Twitter Listening Party , Wolf Alice’s’s drummer Joel Amey tweeted ““what happens when you mix the B-52s with the worlds biggest distortion pedal.””

11. “Moaning Lisa Smile” (2014)

A tribute to Lisa Simpson and outsiders everywhere, the track was originally featured on the band’s 2014 EP Creature Songs (as well as on the U.S. edition of their debut album). It was nominated for Best Rock Performance at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards and was also the band’s first single release in the U.S in 2015.

It’s probably one band’s loudest moments, channelling the spirit of Pixies in terms of the guitar sound and makes evident the band’s eclectic versatility. It arrived with a fantastic video that seemed to fuse Mean Girls with a high school talent show with the male band members dressed as girls. There was no hidden message in this, it was simply down ‌to the fact that there simply aren’t enough girls in the band to play the female roles. Or as Ellis put it, “It’s like when you see a primary school play and there aren’t enough girls so a boy plays Rapunzel.”

12. “Delicious Things” (2021)

Melodically and lyrically one of the bands most cinematic moments and the longest track on Blue Weekend . If Lana Del Rey had been born in North London with a penchant for gherkins? Well not quite, because this sweeping track isn’t about creating a fabricated world of moody grandeur, this is Rowsell apparently reflecting on her own experiences at a party in LA.

Initially she seems in the thrall of the intoxicating faux glamour that surrounds her, as she sings “I don’t care, I’m in the Hollywood Hills/I’m no longer pulling pints, I’m no longer cashing tills.” But later in a moment of self-awareness and self-deprecation, she begins to tire of the phoniness and wonders if she fits in. And in order to keep herself grounded she decides to ring her mum—“Feel like I’m falling, dreams slowly stalling / Extravagance disguised as elegance is boring/ I don’t belong here, though it really is quite fun here/“Hey, is Mum there? It’s just me, I felt like calling.”” It’s a beautiful song with a dream-like, almost hypnagogic atmosphere that combines relatable lyrics set within a world of performative opulence.

And there we have it, what a fantastic gift of a band! So over to you. What would you include in your own personal Wolf Alice Top 12?


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