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Album review: Wavves - 'King of the Beach' (Bella Union)

He might have cleaned up his sound and his act, but Nathan Williams is still more a slacker than a saviour at heart

Album review: Wavves - 'King of the Beach' (Bella Union)

6 / 10 You can take a punk like Nathan Williams several ways. Probably the simplest is to view him in the great tradition of the All-American Loser – a frustrated Dostoevskian anti-hero in a trucker cap. Last year at Primavera he got so fucked on booze, Vallies and Es that he ended up exchanging fists with his drummer, who walked off mid-set before Williams ran the jack on him and gave the fella his P45… displaced anger, anyone?

You see, he’s like just Captain Ahab without Moby Dick, or Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club without detention… He’s a rebel without anything to rebel against, the King Of The Beach, staring at the sea, wondering what the fucking point of it all is… deep, huh? Whatever.

Now Williams is back on the street again with the late Jay Reatard’s old backline and this new LP. This time around, he’s cleaned up his act and ditched the distorted laptop sound he used on his 2008 self-titled debut, in favour of a studio in Mississippi with Modest Mouse’s producer. Apparently this means he isn’t ‘lo-fi’ any more, which is a crock of shit because the recording quality still sounds like it’s been layered out of sync on purpose, giving it that typically trashy quality every new grunge band from Brooklyn to Dalston copies. But one knock-on effect of going professional is that you can now hear the music clearly and properly, and it turns out that Mr Williams isn’t exactly a Mozart in the songwriting stakes.

There are a couple of good tracks here, though, that make it worth buying (though that’s about it). The title number finds Williams telling everyone that no-one’s ever going to stop him over raved-up Jesus And Mary Chain hooky surf riffs. ‘When Will You Come’ provides the same kind of catharsis as ‘I Just Want To See His Face’ does to The Rolling Stones’ ‘Exile On Main Street’, but with a Brian Wilson feel, and ‘Idiot’ is prime-cut thumping garage. The other eight tracks are pretty grey. Sometimes it sounds like a kids’ TV show hosted by Chicago punks Screeching Weasel, with Williams shrieking “ALL MY FRIENDS HATE ME AND I DON’T GIVE A SHIT”, at the top of his voice (‘Green Eyes’). It’s not mould-breaking and, if you’re over 14, you’ve already been there and got the counselling.

Midway through the LP he even gets all grandiose and philosophical, saying things like, “To take on the world would be something”. The overall vibe of ‘King Of The Beach’ really is like it’s the story of a young man coming to terms with the pointlessness of his own existence. Somewhere in there is an element of truth, because life is meaningless. If you’re a monotheist, it’s a means to an end. If you’re an atheist, then you’ve got to gamble on making up your own values and hope they’re right. Either way, only death can cash your docket, and not a lot of people really have the guts to fail on their own terms, because it’s easier to screw up on someone else’s and hope they forgive you. Williams is only half-afraid, which makes him just about as good as anybody else. There’s just no dignity in gobbing off about it…

Or is there? Seems like we do need people like Williams, if only to remind us of how lame we all are. There haven’t been any bands you could throw your life away for in a long, long time, and who’s to blame? Well, maybe we are, because we’re all too frightened to affirm the greatness in anything other
than the next disposable blog star, lest it consume us. With records like this machine-gunning misery at every release date, however, it might be a long wait for salvation.

Huw Nesbitt

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