As they worked on their third album, Wolf Alice would engage in an exercise. “We liked to play our demos over the top of muted movie trailers or particular scenes from films,” lead singer and guitarist Ellie Rowsell tells Apple Music. “It was to gather a sense of whether we’d captured the right vibe in the music. We threw around the word ‘cinematic’ a lot when trying to describe the sound we wanted to achieve, so it was a fun litmus test for us. And it’s kinda funny, too. Especially if you’re doing it over the top of Skins.”
Halfway through Blue Weekend’s opening track, “The Beach,” Wolf Alice has checked off cinematic, and by its (suitably titled) closer, “The Beach II,” they’ve explored several film scores’ worth of emotion, moods, and sonic invention. It’s a triumphant guitar record, at once fan-pleasing and experimental, defiantly loud and beautifully quiet and the sound of a band hitting its stride. “We’ve distilled the purest form of Wolf Alice,” drummer Joel Amey says.
Blue Weekend succeeds a Mercury Prize-winning second album (2017’s restless, bombastic Visions of a Life), and its genesis came at a decisive time for the North Londoners. “It was an amazing experience to get back in touch with actually writing and creating music as a band,” bassist Theo Ellis says. “We toured Visions of a Life for a very long time playing a similar selection of songs, and we did start to become robot versions of ourselves. When we first got back together at the first stage of writing Blue Weekend, we went to an Airbnb in Somerset and had a no-judgment creative session and showed each other all our weirdest ideas and it was really, really fun. That was the main thing I’d forgotten: how fun making music with the rest of the band is, and that it’s not just about playing a gig every evening.”
The weird ideas evolved during sessions with producer Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Björk) in a locked-down Brussels across 2020. “He’s a producer that sees the full picture, and for him, it’s about what you do to make the song translate as well as possible,” guitarist Joff Oddie says. “Our approach is to throw loads of stuff at the recordings, put loads of layers on and play with loads of sound, but I think we met in the middle really nicely.” There’s a Bowie-esque majesty to tracks such as “Delicious Things” and “The Last Man on Earth”; “Smile” and “Play the Greatest Hits” were built for adoring festival crowds, while Rowsell’s songwriting has never revealed more vulnerability than on “Feeling Myself” and the especially gorgeous “No Hard Feelings” (“a song that had many different incarnations before it found its place on the record,” says Oddie. “That’s a testament to the song. I love Ellie’s vocal delivery. It’s really tender; it’s a beautiful piece of songwriting that is succinct, to the point, and moves me”).
On an album so confident in its eclecticism, then, is there an overarching theme? “Each song represents its own story,” says Rowsell. “But with hindsight there are some running themes. It’s a lot about relationships with partners, friends, and with oneself, so there are themes of love and anxiety. Each song, though, can be enjoyed in isolation. Just as I find solace in writing and making music, I’d be absolutely chuffed if anyone had a similar experience listening to this. I like that this album has different songs for different moods. They can rage to ‘Play the Greatest Hits,’ or they can feel powerful to ‘Feeling Myself,’ or ‘they can have a good cathartic cry to ‘No Hard Feelings.’ That would be lovely.”