Music Review: Visions of a Life
There are two things that people who know my music tastes have come to realize. First, I am a sucker for female vocals. If women were to take over vocals from here on out, I would have no complaints. My favorite male vocalists don’t even come close to my favorite female vocals. Second, I am a double-minded man when it comes to music. I either like albums that give me several different looks throughout their runtime or I like albums that are basically one long song. I want songs to be succinct in their length, but I have no problem with ten-minute tracks as long as they don’t feel like an extended jam session. I admit, my music tastes seem contradictory often. I can’t explain it. It just is.
Wolf Alice’s second album, Visions of a Life, hits the sweet spot of what I love. Ellie Rowsell’s vocals alternate between laid-back, spoken word coolness to frenetic, piercing yells and everything in between. Her backing band finds a nice median between straightforward rock riffs, shoegaze-y walls of sound and toned-down melodies that become precursors and segues to the more frantic musical moments that pervade the album.
Yet, even with the diverse musical notes being struck, there is an ambient airiness that runs through from the opening, “Heavenward,” to its eight-minute, elastic conclusion, “Visions of a Life.” Songs like “Sky Musing,” “Planet Hunter,” and “Space & Time” continue the atmospheric elements that give us an ascent, as the music and vocals lift off and inflate into the open and endless skies.
The narrative that weaves through from track to track finds us exploring, as the title suggests, the life of a woman who is caught between transcendence and earthly temptations. Finding herself aching for something beyond this human existence and yet getting pulled back into the foibles of devastating relationships and negative influences on her life. “After Zero Hour” portends this in its beginning:
“Suddenly she lost control of her world
A fire blazed and a chaos unfurled
A transcendent invitation
To the zero hour
She gave in to the temptation
High on curiosity
High on power
But this girl refused to die
So she drank the milk of life
Was it the moon and the changing tide?
Yeah this girl refuses to die
So she drank the milk of life
Felt like the start of the ninth life”
The push and pull of existence is represented throughout this collection of songs in such a way that the earthly weaknesses are sung with anger and exhaustion while the hope of moving “heavenward” is elevated with melody and a vivacity that moves the heart and soul to hope for something more than this dry, thirsty landscape of human life.
This is one of those rare indie rock albums that remains intimate and intentional while grasping for a sound and lyrical content which aims to match the ambition of Homerian works. The album’s female character, Hannah, is someone we can relate to, someone on a journey of discovery and heartache. Like the song says, she is “beautifully unconventional.” While the album relies on several indie rock conventions, there is enough diversity and emotional resonance to transcend its influences into a soundscape of its own making.