King of the Beach

Review: Wavves – V

Belying his slacker persona, Nathan Williams has been remarkably busy since the release of the last Wavves album two years ago.  Afraid of Heights was one of our favorite records of 2013, and reached the third spot in our inaugural Best Albums list; since then, Williams has formed an electronic side project with his brother (Sweet Valley) and released a collaborative album with Cloud Nothing’s Dylan Baldi (No Life For Me), and after the release of several extra Wavves tracks for various projects, was able to find some time to record a proper follow-up.  It seems that by dividing up his attention into pursuing all these different projects has allowed Williams to focus on a singular approach for Wavves, as V is the most streamlined album the band has released in years.

V is a giddy rush, blasting through eleven tracks in half an hour, but by relying on a particular formula leads to some diminishing returns as the album progresses.  Each song is amped up to eleven and played at a breakneck speed, and while individually each song is great and could be selected for a single, it can result in a numbing effect when listened to as a whole.  The album is missing some of those excellent mid-tempo numbers like “Demon to Lean On” or “Afraid of Heights” from their previous album, or those crazy studio experiments like “Baseball Cards” and “Convertible Balloon” from King of the Beach, both of which helped make for more cohesive records.

However, Williams shows once again that he can write a great hook, as V is absolutely stuffed with earworms that will immediately grab your attention.  As fans should expect at this point, all those sunny melodies and cheerful musical background serve as an excellent foil to lyrics that revel in self-loathing, though even in the wake of an apparent breakup the mood is a tad merrier than on Afraid.  The group also displays a remarkable capability to create the most artificial sounds possible with traditional rock instruments, and careful listening reveals a wealth of material lurking in the background of each track.

For a band that has a long history with the letter “v”, it is a fitting gesture to name the group’s fifth album with the Roman Numeral, and the record recaptures the energy of the band’s early years, but with a much better recording budget.  V may not reach the heights of its predecessors, but it can serve as a welcome shot of adrenaline or as a palette cleanser after some other more dour and serious records.

Feats of Strength: Wavves

For the past few years, I have made listening to King of the Beach a part of my Labor Day festivities, as a gesture to commemorate the last dying gasp of summer.  Usually the Wavves album serves as a soundtrack to an actual trip to the beach, but I decided this year to take that trip to the land of those beautiful grey skies only in my mind.  However, the celebration did give me the chance to explore what it is exactly that has spurred my love for this album.

There is a key moment in the title track that opens the album that manages to set the tone for the rest of the album.  It is the kind of throwaway idea that most listeners would gloss over, but every time I hear it I cannot help but crack up precisely because it is so stupid.  After the first chorus (around the :53 mark), the band uses a ridiculous echo effect on the snare drum as the song kicks into the next verse.  Though the band deploys other effects throughout the rest of the song, they do not use that drum effect again, giving the impression that this was some sort of studio joke that the band decided to leave in place, regardless of whether any better takes existed.

That little joke sets the mood for the rest of the album, alerting the listener to not take anything seriously.  Though songs about weed and surfing should already signal to the audience what kind of album it is, this leaves no doubt that King of the Beach is an irreverent romp.  It also shows that even though Nathan Williams was now working in a real studio with money and musicians and everything, the same fun that he had experimenting with lo-fi techniques in his bedroom from the group’s early days would still be a significant part of the band’s sound.

I am certain that this post represents more thought and effort than what into tossing in that silly effect, but sometimes dumb jokes pay off.