Colorado songwriter mixes obscenity and emotional heft with huge pop melodies
Wavves - 'Afraid Of Heights'
He’s still an asshole screw-up, but Nathan Williams uses it to his advantage on his very Weezer fourth album
Yet so far, Wavves has been nimble enough to stay half a beat ahead of the pop cultural scythe that’s coming for him. After skirting a career meltdown by ranting druggedly at the crowd at 2009’s Primavera, 2011’s ‘King Of The Beach’ unexpectedly saw him return more confident and more imaginative than ever. Cutting the bongs with something a bit stronger, he decided to turn himself into a slacker Brian Wilson doing his ‘Smile’. He started reaching towards Animal Collective-style symphonic pop.
‘Afraid Of Heights’ takes the formula he toyed with there and beats it into something more coherent, focusing on decorating his punk with this new sonic tinsel. ‘Sail To The Sun’ opens things with xylophone, strings and a half-obscured dialogue sample, like he’s about to announce he’s joined The Polyphonic Spree, but then the fripperies recede, and four seconds of verse supernovas into a chorus like a barfight. Musicologically speaking, his new formula is symphonic pop + slack grunge = Weezer. The same breezy melodic craft that characterised Rivers Cuomo’s heyday informs the best of what turns up here, as witnessed on the ‘Blue Album’-good title track.
Lyrically, of course, this is still very much a Wavves album. Williams does not turn his awkward pain into canny subtlety as Cuomo might. Songs can be divided into four clear categories: life sux/everyone hates me/let’s get high/you’re not gonna get me so suck it. Early on, he’s more upbeat. ‘Hi Getting Hi’ and ‘Lunge Forward’ chug along like Jay Reatard at his best. Towards the back end, Negative Nancy dominates. We move from ‘Paranoid’ to ‘Beat Me Up’ to ‘Everything Is My Fault’ and it all becomes a bit of a drag. If you read the lyrics to ‘Gimme A Knife’ down the line to The Samaritans, they’d send the loony ambulance round within the hour: “Gimme a knife. I’ll put the knife in my brain”. But as he seems so insistent on reminding us: you ain’t never gonna change him. Wavves hasn’t been pretending to be an asshole screw-up all this time just to impress you.
He is an asshole screw-up, for better and for worse, and at his best, this record is the ballsy twisted screech of a deranged finger-biter.
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