In 2009 Wavves went from buzz band to burnout in an alarmingly short period of time: On-stage meltdown, tour cancellation, etc. Last summer we heard promising Zach Hill-assisted murmurs before a September bar fight in Brooklyn, and then lots of silence. Instead of turning into an Internet-era cautionary tale, Nathan Williams got himself a new band, and left the Macbook behind for the bigger sound of Sweet Tea Studios where he worked with Modest Mouse producer Dennis Herring. He put a lot of effort into his third proper album … but does King Of The Beach offer any redemption?
The first time we covered Wavves was two years ago in The Outsiders, where Williams’ project was included and spotlighted for a specific non-outsider-y reason. Basically, he nailed every aspect of the zeitgeist/was a buzz-band shoe-in:
This week I’m giving the entire spotlight to Wavves, the one-man project of 22-year-old San Diego-based Nathan Williams partly because he makes fuzzy, loopy 4-track bedroom skate-punk/noise-pop, but also because he seems like he’s ready to explode from the starter gate with two upcoming records and a groundswell of buzz (and his own knack for melody, the current fascination with DIY culture, etc). Wavves could easily be discounted as No Age Jr., but when you spend time with his songs, they develop a very different, more insular feeling. It’s music that might have stayed “outside” even a couple of years ago, but at this point, you can already tell it’s on a “new big thing” verge.
Explode he did. That said, you can no longer use the No Age Jr. tag as successfully. And it’s harder to think of the work as insular now that he’s recording/writing with bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes, the guys who used to backup another up-and-down rocker, Jay Reatard. All that said, it’s refreshing to step back and look at Wavves music as music, not a sociological experiment.
King Of The Beach is a good record, a great summer soundtrack. Outside the title, there’s a song called “Super Soaker” and we get lyrics/sentiments touching on surfing, staying young forever, having fun, beach-side whistling, etc. There’s also plenty of self-loathing and depression (see “Take On The World,” “Green Eyes,” etc.), but it comes out in the sunniest way possible: Pair King with Best Coach’s Crazy For You, hot wire a convertible (there’s also “Convertible Balloon,” a song about carrying a balloon in a convertible), and go joyful road trip.
You’ve heard “Mickey Mouse,” “Post Acid,” and the title track. Elsewhere, the fuzz remains, but it’s been dialed back and folded into additional layers. The percussion is more varied. The textures offer more details and patterns. The songs feel fleshier, less solo: Wavves has become a real band, whch serves Williams’s knack for sunny, catchy melody. (Hayes wrote “Convertible Balloon” and “Baby Say Goodbye,” Pope the bass-heavy “Linus Spacehead.”)
Wavves’ anthems are generally infused with a touch of disengagement/”So Bored” ennui. Here, you get sonically downcast moments that go deeper with their emotions and introspection — the soaring, jingle-belled “When Will You Come” and similarly downcast, pretty standout “Baseball Cards” (this one also fits with “Mickey Mouse” in the Animal Collective-esque realm), and the lovesick “Green Eyes” (“I’m just not man enough… / My own friends hate me, but I don’t give a shit”) nail a melancholia he doesn’t quite tap on the first two records. The sequencing’s also stronger: Tunes fade in and out of each other and move cohesively toward the chirpy-then-phased 5-minute closer “Baby Say Goodbye.” You get 12 songs in just under 40 minutes. It feels shorter … in the way good albums do.
You have to hand it to Williams: Last year he was in danger of turning into a punchline — even his biggest supporters hung him out to dry — but instead of fading, he got himself a talented rhythm section, allowed them to contribute fully, and opted to work with a producer known for being a bit of a control freak. As Nathan notes in the press release:
When you’re not watering it down with a load of shit and reverb, it’s a lot harder to make a record, because you know every part is going to be hard perfectly. You can’t half-ass anything … A lot more effort went into this than with previous records.
Breaking a sweat may seem ironic or poseur-y considering the slacker nature of Williams’ aesthetic, but despite what they want you to think, the most interesting punks are often the ones who’ve worked the hardest. Extra effort doesn’t always pay off, Axl Rose, but this time it did: A lot of people will be eating crow after listening to King Of The Beach.
King Of The Beach is out 8/3 via Fat Possum.