Wolf Alice’s ‘Visions Of A Life’ Is The Evolved Resurrection Of British Rock

British rock is dead. Well, maybe not buried in the ground but it’s on life support. So far nobody has pulled the plug, put everyone out of their Catfish & The Cabbage Blossoms-related misery and admitted that ears have moved onto synths and autotune. The bands who try to break through in the UK can’t afford to behave rock and roll anymore. In the social media age, you can’t shoot up, invite kids round to your East London living room, give them a stick and poke that reads ‘The Libertines’ and get away with it. There’s no budget to pay for a limousine to show up at the back of the NME offices and drive the editor around London blaring your new album, as folklore maintains Noel Gallagher once did.

London four-piece Wolf Alice know that they were born ten years — maybe twenty years — too late. They are students of rock and roll, indebted to the chronicles of history; from The Clash to Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Pixies to Fugazi. Their 2015 debut My Love Is Cool had that tattooed on its sleeves. They are a band who bought physical copies of the magazines they’d appear in, who live in the Hawley Arms pub in Camden years after Amy Winehouse’s death, who could probably tell the difference between Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong and The Rumble Strips.

Wolf Alice are the only band in my two-and-a-half year stint at NME who gatecrashed the office at 8 AM still on their night out, escaping in a taxi shouting “we’re going to break into London Zoo!” only to sheepishly return moments later to retrieve guitarist Joff Oddie’s phone, which he left behind on a desk. That’s Wolf Alice. Too sensible to be reckless. Too sweet to be fully chaotic. Too diligent to fuck it up. Their engine runs on the fuel of punk myth without its tragic endings. They are more likely to throw a brick than a TV through a window. It would happen by accident, and they’d apologize for it a thousand times. Fortunately, they have a good sense of humor.

After relentless years of touring that debut, frontperson Ellie Rowsell, Oddie, drummer Joel Amey and bassist Theo Ellis became more astute musicians, their lens widened while traveling, and their friendship became a marriage. While doing so, the indie landscape changed. In 2017, to identify as indie is to be an orphan. The NME might not have abandoned Wolf Alice but in its new wide-angled era does the idea of an “NME band” mean anything concrete?

That this gang are here for round two is survival in the most hostile conditions. It begs the question: Is indie still important? Why won’t it just fucking die already? If their follow-up album is as good as Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled or Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm (it is, by the way) why does it matter? We’ve bought tickets to the rebirth of a guitar revolution countless times. To each generation, there’s a great white hope. Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.

If 2017 will stoke an indie revival, its leaders must be an evolved species. Enter Wolf Alice’s sophomore album, Visions Of A Life. The background narrative of the road-weary, navel-gazing victims pursuing their difficult second record is semi-accurate. As cliché would have it, it was made in LA over three months, produced Justin Meldal-Johnsen — but the stereotype ends there.

This second LP makes what came before it sound difficult. Visions Of A Life is the eureka moment, not the freakout. It’s potential realized. It stares into the void of tourbus days and newfound adulation and asks the life-and-death questions. Why do I feel so abandoned? What is the point of me? It doesn’t mask itself in usual indie bravado. It is humble, shy even, and yet it knows how to scream. “I have onethousandmillion friends and I feel so alone,” shouts Rowsell on the title track before a huge Sabbath-y riffs kick in. It’s ambitious enough to erase Royal Blood from arena history while relatable enough to capture the common fears felt by every millennial”felt by every millennial.

Before looking at overarching themes, I challenge any naysayer to put on Visions Of A Life and not have a physical reaction to it. Its confidence is the most immediate reason for its importance. On lead single “Yuk Foo”, the rumbling bass, thrashing drums and schizoid guitars provide a release for your pent-up rage. It doesn’t matter how many times you listen, the thrilling cries of “I wanna fuck all the people I meet, fuck all my friends and the people in the street” make your eyeballs pop each time. It’s the re-introduction of the ferocious Hyde to Rowsell’s timid Jeckyll.

Offering up two extreme personas has allowed Rowsell to build an enigma. She’s a band leader born for teenage obsessions. Quiet and reserved until she explodes in fits of mania, she’s unpretentious in her lyrics. That’s most evident in the shoegaze-y ballad “Don’t Delete The Kisses.” The song is the perfect distillation of crushing hard on someone and plucking up the courage to be emotionally naked. “I’m electric! The romantic clichés! Yeah they really are all true!” whispers Rowsell, embarrassed by her admissions. Cue goosebumps and the relief that comes when the oldest of narratives can be told without making you want to vomit up roses.

Rowsell’s development is one-quarter of the story. Ellis, Oddie and Amey have stretched their vision into panorama with brighter, whiplash-inducing volume. Each song contains the flashes of ideas from early EPs, plots they weren’t previously equipped to manifest. Now there’s no holding back. “After The Zero Hour” is the elder cousin of the acoustic-picked “Turn To Dust”, a fairytale respite from drums and dirge. “Yuk Foo” is the sequel to the impulsive, jerking “Fluffy”, but cums harder and faster.

“Formidable Cool” is the inverse of “Your Loves Whore” where Rowsell sang about being the “perfect girl.” Here she’s burned and furious, documenting a sexual predator who doesn’t care about his prey. “You listen to his lectures on life without one of your own…To heal the wounds you have and not to open anymore,” she warns, with knowing wisdom. A spaghetti western-style drama soundtracks her narrative, heightening as she spits out the reveal: “But that’s all he fucking did when he fucked you on the flooooooooooooor.”

Rowsell’s storytelling has become bravely vivid where it was once obscure. A bookworm and film junkie, she’s obsessed with creating fantasies. But when the dream of touring the world with your best friends becomes reality, imagining gets harder. It shouldn’t be shocking to hear a female write about sex as crudely as say Nick Cave, but somehow it still surprises. “I feel like [‘rock music’ is] such a dirty word, and I want to reclaim it,” Rowsell said recently. “I’m just going to start saying that without a blush.”

Indeed music criticism has concerned itself again with how “guitar music” has become the tool of the marginalized. The significance of wielding rock goes far beyond Rowsell’s gender though. Wolf Alice are a representation of the leftfield. After becoming more politicized and endorsing Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 Election, they are pin-ups for a malaise and frustration felt among British youth. Guitars remain a tried and tested tool for cathartic release, even if lyrically the songs don’t detail the status quo.

Take “Sad Boy,” a tale about a young lad who’s lost the will to go on. There’s a breakdown before the track rebuilds as if reanimating the very dulled corpse written about. “I was waiting, waiting for anything to happen,” sings Rowsell, as yelping backing vocals echo desperately in the background. “I was just waiting for this not to hurt.” It’s when it’s at its most doom-laden, that this record comes alive, fluttering and screeching forwards. Visions Of A Life is an extremely dark LP. It’s entirely preoccupied with death, beginning with My Bloody Valentine swells and anticipating the afterlife on “Heavenward,” as though capturing the nihilism of a whole peer group.

“Sky Musings,” particularly, is a total oddity of a tune, propelling itself into motion like a jet taking off. It’s also the most important song they’ve ever written. It progresses the indie narrative while also offering us a more vulnerable, less cocksure female perspective. Rowsell paints the scene of being on the umpteenth long-haul flight, watching rom-coms with a miniature bottle of wine, having an existential crisis. “Look out of your window you’re on top of the world, 23-years-old and you’re acting like it’s over. If we crash, if we crash, imagine that, if we crash…” she says, anxiously, but also like maybe she does want to fall out of the sky.

It’s in this gothic, multi-layered suffocating noise where the band find full bursts of euphoria; windows where the songs breathe then roar, lull then swell, particularly on the title track. “Visions Of A Life” is the sound of hell, a plea to leave this realm. Sprawled across eight minutes and three movements, the ongoing riffs won’t let Rowsell escape. She’s wed to them. Suddenly a valve lets the air in and there it is: A rush to the head.

If Visions Of A Life is a diary of the slog and toil it takes to believe that your band could change lives, even when it seems like it might be the most irrelevant thing on the planet, it’s also their raison d’etre. It’s a record built for going out on the road again, flying around the globe five more times, inducing a thousand circle pits. It will refuel the hearts of a generation, allow kids to find their kindred spirits in shared spaces. It will offer solace from the outside, emancipating a generation from their ancestors’ pasts, gifting them their own history.

Visions Of A Life is the most vital of British indie records because it contains the best kinds of songs — the songs that tell the future. With that, I leave you with “Planet Hunter”, an ode to forgetting about those consequences. “And I only ever try to have fun, I’m only old when I don’t feel young,” sings Rowsell, so sweetly. “And if you’re with me you can come along.” I have had this record for over two months. Every time I hear this song real tears form in my real eyes. It’s about trying to recreate perfect moments. It’s nostalgic, smart to the fact that you can’t induce a perfect night or rekindle the sparks that flew. But rather than fixating on the good old days, it believes in the potential for a repeat performance. Wolf Alice are convinced that if you just hang on for dear life, rock music and all its legend has as a fighting chance to live another day. Looks like it’s a time for heroes once more.

Visions Of A Life is out tomorrow, 9/29 via RCA Records. Get it here.