Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Wavves Aren't Too Afraid Of Heights

The new 14-track album from the Wavves might be called Afraid Of Heights, but the surf rock/pop punk band led by Nathan Williams really isn't. This is the album that will take the Wavves higher still.

The fourth studio album, which was released last month, is filled with self-loathing and an ambitious mix of minimalism and expressive experimentation. The bigger sound is attributed in part to producer John Hill, who has worked with M.I.A., Santigold and Rihanna, but there is something more too.

"The realness of life starts to hit you later on." — Nathan Williams to Pitchfork

As Williams has matured so has his writing. In youth, he says, having your parents home makes being moneyless and careless a little more bearable. Not having a home or knowing where your next meal is coming from, on the other hand, is a hard luck life.

Every track on Afraid Of Heights makes it unmistakably clear that Williams is coming down to earth. He is well past the meltdown that almost ended the career he recaptured with King Of The Beach. As much as that album re-established him as a serious artist, Afraid Of Heights reaches higher.

The lineup feels right too. Although Billy Hayes is missing, Jacob Cooper (drums) has played with Williams long enough to stick. So has Stephen Pope, who came aboard to make King Of The Beach.

What's most surprising about the sound, especially on tracks like Sail To The Sun, is that no one really knows where the band might take something after the opening. The same can be said about the spirit of the song too. Nobody wants to be left behind, except when everybody seems to be racing for a grave.

Following Sail To The Sun is Demon To Leave On, which could boast the best lyrics ever laid down by Williams. The track might be a knock against the ambivalence of youth, wasted years that no one can get back after they've been wasted, but it's also a confessional that is authentic from start to finish.

Afraid Of Heights is all about looking at life through a retrospective lens.

Some people size up these songs as all pointing to the same fleeting feeling that everything we have that's fun eventually leads to failure, death and loneliness. Maybe so, but Williams also makes it clear enough that much of these feelings come along with choices. As much as he is wise enough to see the bleakness of eventuality, he also seems to hit a raw nerve in that he wishes he caught on sooner.

These two tracks are followed by Mystic, an overtly distorted atmospheric trip; Lunge Forward, which brings in some classic surf jangles; and Dong, the mellow cello-enhanced love ballad. And then there is Afraid Of Heights, a title track that creates a roughly composed but enjoyable nod to early Weezer, which Williams said he was listening to incessantly.

Ironically, even Paranoid catches Williams reflecting on his reflection. The track rightly reminds everybody that Williams is done maturing as an artist. There is plenty for him to learn and more wisdom to grab and hold onto for however long he's got. Just listen to the must-have track Cop for a little evidence.

The balance of the album continues on with a stack of mid-tempo songs, except the tempo killer Everything Is My Fault. The song itself is fine but its placement is questionable. Still, it doesn't matter. You'll want the album, along with the bonus track Hippies Is Punks.

Afraid Of Heights By Wavves Creates White Caps At 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While a few people have suggested the length of the album makes it drag, I don't hear it. Afraid Of Heights is smartly written, relevantly dark, and meticulously produced. It's easily Williams' finest album, catching him perfectly between being a reckless kid and maturing, and an increasingly serious artist. Anybody listening won't be able to help but wonder what's next.

Afraid of Heights by the Wavves is available on Amazon. You can also download the album from iTunes. Check out Barnes & Noble for the vinyl or Facebook for upcoming tour dates. Right now, the band is working its way across the Midwest, playing with plenty of bands we like (including FIDLAR).
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