Wavves – Afraid Of Heights
Genre: Garage Rock/Noise Pop
Label: Mom + Pop Records
Nathan Williams, AKA Wavves, is musician who has faced his fair deal of controversy and criticism in his short but highly successful run so far. If you scour the internet, you’re bound to read or see the renowned performance at Primavera Sound ‘o9, but depending on the type of person you are, you’ll either see the humour in it or boil your blood. But one thing is for sure: Nathan Williams is a guy who writes fun music that melts the borders between pop, surf and garage rock – all with a noisy delivery.
While Wavves has always been Williams’ brainchild, it has featured a steady line-up with Stephen Pope on bass and Jacob Cooper on drums since the last album “King Of The Beach”, and so on this release, it shows that their musical relationship has strengthened and are experimenting a bit more. While the cover looks fairly intimidating, don’t be decieved – “Afraid Of Heights” has just as much catchy summertime hooks as any previous release. However lyrically, there is a dark undertone throughout this album, and the contradicting sounds can be confusing, chipper and shocking at the same time.
Sail To The Sun starts the album at a hearty stomp. Beginning with twinkles of a xylophone, a piano and what sounds like a music box intertwining as a racing heartbeat begins to pump louder and louder, a child’s croak squeaks through just before the bass-heavy song begins. A strong starter, the band goes at full pace: twangy guitars, driving drums and plenty of “whooo-ooo-oooo”‘s to fill your hook appetite.
The second track is a scorcher too, but in a different context. Demon To Lean On has the signature lethargic Williams delivery on vocals and guitar, feeling unbelievably lazy yet tight, as the 80’s twangy guitar strolls on, bursting into distortion. Then he yawns the chorus “Hold a gun to my head / So send me an angel / Or bury deeply instead / With demons to lean on”. The contrast between the ultimately celebratory instrumental and Williams’ dire lyrics inject a sense of joy and destruction at the same time.
However, even this early on, things take a bit of a tiresome turn. If you didn’t know Williams likes to get high, then you will do by the end of the next track: Mystic throws back to the more distorted production of early Wavves releases, with an unclear mix of bass, claps and some noise, while “When I’m high” gets repeatedly dragged along over the top. When the bass kicks into the chorus, it overlaps the vocals and so it’s hard to really get anything other than “When I’m high” unless you really concentrate on the vocals. It’s tiresome.
Lunge Forward brings it back with there clearer production and a spitful delivery of anger: “I look up and stretch my arms / You’re fucking boring / It doesn’t mean a thing to me / Still asleep inside my head / I’m fucking snoring”. While the lyrics do get a little whiny, it suits the careless feeling of the instrumental side. The verse riff is also one of the most addictive catchy moments on the whole album.
Dog feels like the standard Wavves aesthetic, but hungover – imagine waking up at a house party, hungover, climbing over people sleeping on the floor and walking through the sun back home. This is the soundtrack to it. The twinkling xylophone and acoustic guitar, backed by some melancholic strings, helps towards the lost yet joyous youthful flashbacks that the vocals and lyrics incite. As for the title track, it doesn’t inspire as much feeling as most of the previous tracks, and while it has some Nirvana/The Pixies vibes, it falls flat and never has a punchy moment – which makes the five minutes feel longer than it is.
Paranoid however furthers The Pixies feel instrumentally (especially the solo), but again, never quite reaches the point that it feels to be brewing up to. Cops makes up for the lacklustre feel of the previous tracks with its lyrics alone: “What did John just say / He killed a cop? / Sit back and relax, John / Just go home and quickly wash your hands”. The jaunty acoustic backing of it makes it feel like a twisted lullaby or The Beatles on bath salts.
The album takes a dip again with Beat Me Up and just feels underwhelming and all too familiar by this point, but due to the short length of the track, it’s not too big of a dent. Everything Is My Fault, to put it bluntly, sounds like the combination of David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out) on quaalades, culminating in being both desperately grim and psychedelic. Though this may not sound good to read, it’s definitely a side of Wavves that you don’t really expect, but is a pleasant surprise!
That’s On Me has a jam feel to it, the messy sound of distortion and hands sloppily sliding up and down on the guitar neck gives it a strong garage practice feel. It’s nice and offers a bit more than some of the downer tracks, but not by a whole lot.
Gimme A Knife gives bashful revival though thanks to its punk feel, opening with kids talking of violence and threats, soon interrupted by a pounding The Bronx-ish riff. The track feels like a real boost of interest at this point in the album and way the track transcends through the “wooo” session three-quarters through, fading out to the kids talking again and then jumping back into the main riff is stellar, and the lyrics inspire nothing but jaw-drops with the likes of “I loved you Jesus / You raped the world / I feel defeated / Guess I’ll go surf”. Then there’s the closer, I Can’t Dream, a moodily hammered acoustic guitar and Williams vocals slightly distorted with depressive and loathing lyrics – a suitable ending to a such a bipolar album.
As noted, while there do seem to be some fillers on “Afraid Of Heights”, the good moments of this album do make up for it by far, making it an overall solid album. It’s ultimately fun, despite the negativity of the lyrics, and sounds like the album to prepare you for the good and bad times of the coming summer. If you’re a long-time Wavves fan, there shouldn’t really be a problem here… It’s Wavves, what more can you say?
Favourite tracks: Demon To Lean On, Lunge Forward, Gimme A Knife.