All images courtesy of Wolf Alice Facebook (official)
The summer had officially reached its sultry midpoint, I was newly eighteen, and I was given the gift of Wolf Alice in the most unexpected way: a YouTube ad promoting their debut studio album My Love Is Cool. The ad began with clips from the “Moaning Lisa Smile” music video and ended with a still of the very understated My Love Is Cool album cover. I didn’t need to listen to another one of their songs to know that I was hooked. For the rest of the summer, I made exploring Wolf Alice’s discography my one and only goal.
If you’re not familiar with the band, then here’s some background. Wolf Alice is an English alternative rock band from London, England that borrows elements from indie rock, folk, shoegaze, dream pop, and other similar genres. The band consists of lead vocalist Ellie Rowsell, guitarist Joff Oddie, bassist Theo Ellis, and drummer Joel Amey. Wolf Alice’s origins date all the way back to 2010 when Ellie and Joff first teamed up as an acoustic duo, but the band didn’t become all that it is today until Theo and Joel joined in 2012.
In this article, I’m going to stick to exactly what the title promises: a guide to Wolf Alice songs you can cry to, Wolf Alice songs you can bang your head to, and Wolf Alice songs you can both cry and bang your head to. Some of Wolf Alice’s songs are very one or the other. Most, however, are both. Now of course when I say songs you can cry to, I’m exaggerating. Cry stands for their more mellow, poignant, downright beautiful songs, and as far as songs you can bang your head to, I don’t think I need to explain. Sometimes Wolf Alice is straight-up punk. Sometimes Wolf Alice is straight rock and roll.
Disclaimer: You should know now that I always have been and always will be obsessed with music videos. When they’re done well, they are done so well and take a song to unimaginable heights. I’ve also got a thing for lyrics that stick with you long after a song has ended. Throughout this article, you will find me frequently referencing music videos and quoting lyrics. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Let’s begin with what I’ll from here on out refer to as “cryers.” The first Wolf Alice cryer I was ever exposed to was “Blush” off of the EP by the same name. “Blush” starts off low and slow and gradually picks up pace as the song goes on, mimicking the emotional buildup of the lyrics. One lyric in particular that always breaks me is, “Curse the things that made me sad for so long. Yeah, it hurts to think that they can still go on.” For the full “Blush” experience, I highly recommend watching the moving music video, which I’ll get into more later.
The second Wolf Alice cryer is “Silk” off of My Love Is Cool. The intro of this song is ethereal and can be compared to the sound of a rocket launching in the distance. As if the added sound effects and instrumentation aren’t powerful enough, “Silk” is rife with poetic lyrics. At one minute and seven seconds, Ellie hits you with, “You’re alive and I’m still here.” A few seconds later in a chilling whisper, Ellie quotes the collective voice of society, followed by a comment of her own: “Take this to make you better. Though eventually, you’ll die.” At the beginning of the chorus, Ellie delivers perhaps the most powerful lyrics of all: “Just looking for a protector. God never reached out in time. There’s love that is a savior but that ain’t no love of mine.”
The third Wolf Alice cryer is “Turn to Dust,” which is also off of My Love Is Cool. This eerie opening track is guaranteed to give you chills, especially if you listen to it on vinyl with the volume cranked all the way up. Ellie’s vocals fit the mood of this song to a tee, as do the limited, well-chosen lyrics. My favorites? “If fear is in the mind, then my mind lives in fear,” followed by, “There’s paths to make the heart beat and paths where I can skip, and a path to tread lightly with the clouds beneath my feet.” That’s precisely how this song will have you feeling: as though you’re walking on air or floating on a cloud with your eyes closed. As with “Blush” and “Silk,” “Turn to Dust” drifts off at the end, but I like to think of it as more of the song slipping away from you.
Below you will find what I consider through-and-through Wolf Alice headbangers. If you’re looking for songs that will instantly lift your mood, then look no further.
The first headbanger is “Moaning Lisa Smile” off of My Love Is Cool. This song is a Wolf Alice classic in that it’s likely one of their most well-known songs and it’s a fantastic summation of all the band has to offer. Although “Moaning Lisa Smile” juxtaposes mellow and brash, you can sense the brash parts approaching even as the mellow sections play out. Only a killer music video would do for a headbanger of this magnitude and the “Moaning Lisa Smile” music video does not disappoint. It’s very aesthetically pleasing (think late 70s glam) and the ending is bound to put a smile on your face. Also, it’s worth noting that the outro of this song is perfection, whether you’re watching it play out on YouTube, or simply listening to it whilst fiercely banging your head.
The second headbanger is “Giant Peach” off of My Love Is Cool. This song works wonders for the mood and serves as the background track on days when I need an extra pep in my step. The intro is quite long and without lyrics, creating a flawless buildup. For a headbanger, this one has some superb lyrics, my favorites being, “Don’t know what keeps me here. It’s not the boy giving the funny feels,” as well as, “And change, it feels like fear, it’s all you know.” Both sets of lyrics are delivered in an almost-whisper, only furthering the desired effect. To really sell you on the headbanger masterpiece that is “Giant Peach,” I’m going to give you all a gift and that gift is the last forty-four or so seconds of this song. You’re welcome.
There are two versions of this next headbanger: The My Love Is Cool album version of “Fluffy” and the YouTube music video version of “Fluffy.” I’m going to speak on the music video version as it’s always been my favorite. That little up-and-down look Ellie gives the camera at one minute and fifty-six seconds makes me want to be her. As for the song, it jerks you around. It’s a headbanger, it simmers down but never enough to take you out of the headbanger headspace, and then, at the exact right time, it builds itself back up to a headbanger. Like “Giant Peach,” “Fluffy” offers up some splendid lyrics. Every time Ellie says, “I’d sell you my soul just to get me somewhere,” I feel it, well, in my soul.
For a feel-good headbanger, turn to “You’re a Germ” off of My Love Is Cool. This is such a fun song with a must-watch music video that I definitely don’t recommend watching if you can’t handle gory horror movies. There’s not a lot to be said about “You’re a Germ” except that it is, as any good headbanger should be, a good time. It starts off low and slow, but like “Moaning Lisa Smile,” you can sense the brash parts approaching even as the mellow sections play out. To get a feel of just how cool this song is, know that the following lyrics are delivered in a most upbeat manner: “You ain’t goin’ to Heaven ’cause I’m draggin’ you down to Hell.”
Whether you’re ready or not, this next headbanger is coming for you. “Yuk Foo” off of Visions of a Life is one of Wolf Alice’s most, if not the most, punk rock songs. If the title alone doesn’t relay the rebellious attitude of the song, then the song itself surely will. If you’re still not convinced, Ellie has a mullet in the music video. The song is only two minutes and fourteen seconds long, but it takes full advantage of its time. Wolf Alice is no stranger to cursing in their music, but “Yuk Foo” has a ton of curse words in it, which only ups the level of punk. And you have to give them credit for that ultra playful title.
You’d never believe that the following headbanger is off of the same album as “Yuk Foo,” but it is and that’s one of the many reasons I love Wolf Alice. The title track “Visions of a Life” is one of those two-for-one songs. It starts off slow and moody and effortlessly transforms into an entirely different song halfway through. “Visions of a Life” is equivalent to being on a train that suddenly picks up the pace and doesn’t stop until it crashes. When Ellie screams, “Why do I feel so strange?” around the halfway mark, you know it’s on.
Keeping with the theme of headbangers off of the album Visions of a Life, “Formidable Cool” doesn’t give you a chance to sit still. The beat is intoxicating from the very beginning and the lower, slower lyrics are delivered in a way that makes it feel as though Ellie is whispering them directly into your ear. The appeal of “Formidable Cool” not only lies in the delivery of the lyrics but the lyrics themselves. My favorite will forever be, “Pink lights flicker. His hand in somebody’s knickers. He only has to look at you twice to claim you, his love fool.”
Combination Cryers and Headbangers:
You have now entered the Wolf Alice gray area where you might just be tempted to cry and bang your head simultaneously to the following songs.
The appeal of this first combination cryer and headbanger lies in its erratic nature. “She,” off of the EP Blush, starts as a headbanger, slows down to a full-on cryer at one minute and thirty-seven seconds, and ends as a headbanger. The funky guitar riff at one minute and five seconds will alone make you fall in love, or perhaps the lyric, “She’s got a boyfriend in a band and they do more than just hold hands” will. Fun fact: “She” and “Blush” follow the same character. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but I recommend you watch the “She” music video followed immediately by the “Blush” music video for the whole story.
The second combination cryer and headbanger is “We’re Not the Same” off of the EP Creature Songs. This song fools you. You expect a cryer, and for roughly two minutes, that’s exactly what you get: a slow-paced, beautiful song. The remaining one minute is still beautiful but in a much harsher way. There are several Wolf Alice songs in which the backing vocals are more prevalent and “We’re Not the Same” is one of them. In this song, Ellie’s voice has a shadow, which perfectly complements the “we” referenced from beginning to end.
Another combination cryer and headbanger off of the EP Creature Songs is “Storms.” This one starts off as an in-your-face headbanger and reverts back and forth between a cryer and a headbanger. The first verse and pre-chorus are slow and beautiful. As with “We’re Not the Same,” the faster-paced parts of the song are harsh while still retaining their beauty. My favorite part of this song is hands down the pre-chorus. Not only are the lyrics teeming with truth (“Time doesn’t slow. The world won’t lend hands. What you’ve got to show, and who are your friends.”), but this part of the song forces you to slow down right along with it.
The next combination cryer and headbanger is “Lisbon” off of My Love Is Cool. Compared to “We’re Not the Same,” “Lisbon” flip flops. The first verse and chorus are cryers followed by a quick burst of instrumental headbanger goodness. Eventually, the song gives up on being a cryer and one hundred percent relinquishes itself to being a headbanger. The whole song is a gem, but the real magic lies in the final sixty seconds.
An unexpected combination cryer and headbanger is “Baby Ain’t Made of China” off of the My Love Is Cool Deluxe Edition album. This song starts off so slow that you assume it’s going to be a cryer all the way through. At roughly one minute in, the song laughs in your face. “Baby Ain’t Made of China” simmers down again before building itself back up. The song really kicks into overdrive when Ellie proclaims, “Oh love me, make me better” at one minute and seventeen seconds.
“Feeling Myself” is my favorite song off of Wolf Alice’s latest album Blue Weekend and that’s because the song is the perfect combination of a cryer and a headbanger. “Feeling Myself” is low and slow throughout the beginning, building up to a brash, beautiful chorus that totally sneaks up on you. In typical Wolf Alice fashion, the song simmers down before resuming its headbanger status. I’m still undecided as to what this song feels like more: an out-of-body experience or one long, glorious sigh of relief. Oh, and the music video for this one is as much of a slow-burn masterpiece as the song.
Behind “Feeling Myself,” “Lipstick on the Glass” is my second favorite song off of Wolf Alice’s latest album. This one is less of a headbanger and more of a headbobber, but I couldn’t resist including it in the article. Ellie’s vocals are hauntingly beautiful in the opening verse and a good indication of how the rest of the song is going to go, which brings me to my next point: Out of all the combination cryers and headbangers, this song is likely the most consistent. It never quite reaches the brash-beautiful quality of the others, but it’s far from mellow. In short, “Lipstick on the Glass” is one of those songs you’d be happy to cry and bang (or bob) your head to on repeat.
It is my hope that if you’ve never heard of Wolf Alice or you have and you’ve never given them a listen, your interest is at least slightly piqued. Wolf Alice is clever. They know to appeal to more than one taste in music not just within one album, but usually within one song, and they’re effortless in their delivery. Before listening to Wolf Alice, there’s one question you must ask yourself: Are you in the mood to cry, bang your head, or both?
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Be sure to check out the full archives of Let the Music Be Your Guide, by Christine Naprava, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/let-the-music-be-your-guide-archives/