V by Wavves
Genre: Garage Rock, Power Pop
Favorite: “Pony”, “Redlead”
Wavves frontman Nathan Williams has had a big couple of years; five full length Wavves LP’s (and apparently more coming very, very soon), a joint album with Cloud Nothings, and an EP that featured Best Coast and Fucked Up all in just seven years. The band was featured on Big Boi’s last solo album and released non-album singles for things like Adult Swim and Grand Theft Auto, the latter of which Williams also curated and hosted a radio station on. He founded a glitchy electronic duo with his brother called Sweet Valley which has been actively producing plenty of mixtapes and albums since their 2012 inception. And, lest we forget, he started Ghost Ramp Records, which recently released a new Courtney Love single.
Unsurprisingly, Wavves’ best work happened BEFORE Williams was known as a stoned machine whose sole purpose is to create mediocrity. Their first two albums were lo-fi garage rock at the peak of another lo-fi resurgence, and KING OF THE BEACH emerged as the pinnacle of a (brief) wave of stoner surf rock albums in the beginning of the 2010’s. But not only is lo-fi as an aesthetic generally hard to continue replicating every year or two, it’s an aesthetic Williams moved away from like a bat out of hell. Despite Sweet Valley’s questionable attempts to mix those ideals into their beats, Wavves got fuller and bigger on their 2013 release AFRAID OF HEIGHTS, which led to fairly underwhelming and mixed results.
Their newest record, V, is easily a low for the band. The album sounds lifeless and devoid of the personality that made their previous records, at the very least, an interesting exploration in rock ‘n’ roll during a time when no one makes rock ‘n’ roll. But V’s biggest crime is that it feels like just another piece of content. In their post-lo-fi phase, Wavves have proven on several occasions that they can make catchy and well-produced punk rock – first with their single “Bug” off of the LIFE SUX EP and again with several tracks on AFRAID OF HEIGHTS (check out “Hippies Is Punks,” a crunchy bonus track that has a whiney but infectious chorus). It’s not that Wavves aren’t striving to offer catchy punk ditties on V, because they are, and for an audience out there somewhere I’m sure they succeeded. These songs are blatantly constructed with a pseudo-Burger Records pop mindset, though without any of the starving, hungry, indie charm that makes those bands interesting. Sadly, I think we can argue that point for much of Wavves’ career. Despite their affiliation, Wavves haven’t been a Burger band since KING OF THE BEACH.
Certain production choices boggle the mind. Williams’ vocals are pushed so far forward that any lo-fi ambitions left on AFRAID OF HEIGHTS are now dead on arrival. The drums on this record feel muted and lifeless, an odd note to have to give a band whose biggest song, “King of the Beach,” opens with some striking and distinctly satisfying snare thwacks. The drums rarely make their presence known on songs like “Tarantula” and “Flamezesz.”
Lyrically, the album features boring and well-tread territory for Wavves. “Summer bummer music but without the summer” sounds like the kind of shitty pull-quote Rolling Stone would feature, but it’s not untrue. As they moved away from lo-fi beach music, they kept the contrasting lyrical viewpoint that always made that music interesting; these are still songs that embody themes of anti-social blind closing, but at this point the drugs and partying have pretty much evaporated from their music. Hell, the phrase “dark creatures of the night” is featured on this album, and it’s as out of place as it sounds. The writing has been on the wall for a few releases now, but this many records in it’s clear Williams’ songwriting ability has bottomed out.
At its best, V is akin to the last Interpol record or anything made by the Strokes post-resurgence. At its worst, V is like a half-assed album from a 90’s post-grunge band (I’m looking at you, Everclear and Third Eye Blind). Speaking bluntly, it’s fan-service for a fan base that’s probably not going to be vocal about having to wait four-five years for a new Wavves record. In this light, the record feels pointless. The sentimentality behind Wavves music has remained exactly the same and the music has gotten poorer – not a great combination. The most interesting things Williams does these days are everything BUT Wavves, and V is a shining example of that.