The fairy tale-ish name “Wolf Alice” nearly sums up this band’s twisted, unexpected, and authentic sound. Wolf Alice’s album “My Love is Cool” might just be my top album of all time. Fronted by Ellie Rowsell on vocals and guitar, Wolf Alice is breaking stereotypes for women in music and redefining what being a rockstar means. Growing up as a female guitar player, I often found myself boxed in by expectations. When I told people I played guitar, older folks and family members expected me to to serenade them with sweet, simple Sheryl Crowe songs on my acoustic guitar (no offense to Sheryl, I love her), when I was really laboring in my bedroom trying to shred like Jack White. When I heard “My Love is Cool,” I realized Ellie Rowsell was the female rockstar idol I always wanted, but never had: an aloof, yet badass guitarist, with a soft lyrical side. 2016 has certainly been an amazing year for girl bands and female artists, but Wolf Alice, and frontwoman Ellie Rowsell in particular, has truly blown me away by their heavy riffs, reflective lyrics, and range of genres packed into one record. In a world where iTunes lumps Mac Demarco in with Hole as “rock and roll” or “alternative” music, Wolf Alice has certainly brought the grit and spit back to rock and roll, but through the lens of a young woman.
What originally drew me to Wolf Alice was their heavy, hard rock guitar riffs (like in “Giant Peach” and “Moaning Lisa”). To hear a woman’s voice juxtaposed against historically masculine sounding rock guitar was exciting and refreshing for me. Ellie’s ability to celestially croon in songs like “Turns to Dust” then manically scream in the next track, “You’re a Germ” proves that she will not let herself be limited to a certain style or image as a musician. The record takes you through all the motions you could imagine; tranquility, ecstasy, angst, and even desperation. Listening to the record for the first time astonished me, as the it glides from a fun disco tune (“Freazy”) to an alt-pop anthem (“Bros”) to the psych-rock glory of “Giant Peach.”
Most importantly though, Ellie’s lyrics are REAL and RELATABLE for a young woman trying to find solace in music. In more poignant songs, such as “Silk” and “Soapy Water” Ellie reveals her struggle with depression and fear of death. Revealed through a droning disco beat, “Soapy Water” explains her inner struggle in being a depressed daughter. The song made me realize something that may seem trivial, but hit me hard: there are far too few songs that really capture the what it means to be a daughter (apart from the classics, Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and Beyonce’s “Daddy Lessons”), let a lone songs about being a depressed daughter living up to expectations. In a world that expects young women to be cute and carefree, Ellie has created music for the depressed, angsty, and confused women in the world.
To end on a more uplifting note, “Bros” (despite its title) is a tune about the friendship between two young, reckless girls, yet another topic is often hidden in pop culture: female friendship. Ellie effortless exhales into the mic: “Shake your hair/ have some fun/ forget our mothers and past lovers/ forget everyone/ oh, I’m so lucky, you are my best friend.”
Although Wolf Alice is coming out with a new record this year, I’m skeptical as to how deeply angsty and honest it will be compared to “My Love Is Cool.” This album truly expresses what it means to be an angsty teenage girl, so thank you Ellie. You are a hero to all of us slightly confused, badass grrls.
Artwork by Courtney Wolfe