Thought Catalog
August 3, 2010

Wavves: King of the Beach

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What is the issue?
The sound of kids trying to convince us, or at least themselves, that they aren’t growing up.

To call Wavves’ King of the Beach (Fat Possum) a cleaner, more considered affair than the band’s first two albums is to say very little.  2008’s self-titled cassette-turned-CD and 2009’s Wavvves were the kinds of records it’s good to know that near-teenagers still make, whether one actually cares to listen to them or not: snotty, grotty mall-riots of laptop-captured trashiness and frontman Nathan Williams’ self-disgust, filtered through San Diego skate culture and a certain low-rent pretentiousness (as in the “suite” of instrumental interludes that ran across both records: “California Goth,” “Beach Goth,” “Summer Goth”).  Whatever hooks bobbed up through the overmodulated din – the falsetto “yah-aah”s of “I’m So Bored” and “No Hope Kids,” say — were merely Williams’ nastiest and most insistent sound-gobbets.

After this, almost anything would be a step toward maturity, but King of the Beach turns so sharply toward craft and a conventional indie-band skill-set that one can’t help wondering how much of Wavves’s early audience it will leave behind.

The lead-off (and title) track announces the difference: the opening melody self-cannibalizes “I’m So Bored,” but from there, the song moves through a cleverly torqued pre-chorus (“never gonna stop…me, you’re never gonna stop…”), well-positioned drum-echo drop-ins, and reprises of earlier sections over variant chords.  By comparison with earlier efforts, it’s a veritable composition, ennobling the lyrics’ endless-summer snapshot (“sun in my eyes, let it burn through my thighs”) through its formal virtues as surefootedly as “California Gurls.”

The studio input of Modest Mouse producer/engineer Dennis Herring is surely one key to the album’s clarity of purpose or execution – the multiple-pedal guitar wash of “Super Soaker,” for instance, wouldn’t come off in a less controlled sonic environment.  It isn’t that King of the Beach is noise-free; it’s just that it uses chaotic touches (an atonal solo here, a distressed drum sound there) selectively, not as a foundation.  None of which would mean much if it weren’t applied to Williams’ assured songwriting and arranging, which one suspects he’s had in his pocket from the start – unless you think he’s graduated from the garagey muck of “To the Dregs” to knowing references to the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” drum-break in a matter of months.  (The Phil Spector/Brian Wilson side of what Williams is chasing here has its darker aspect as well, as manifested by his much-reported on-stage implosion at a Barcelona festival in May.)

Listen to Wavves – Post Acid

[audio: http://thoughtcatalog.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/01-post-acid.mp3|titles=Wavves – “Post Acid”]

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Despite the new record’s larger ambitions, some things haven’t changed.  Williams hasn’t yet hit on a vocal approach that fits his more sophisticated moments as a melodist, and his lyrics, for better or worse, rarely proceed for more than a few lines without an infusion of angst.  “Idiot,” one of the disc’s strongest band performances, lights on the charming sentiment “I’m supposed to say I’m sorry, but it wouldn’t mean shit” for its chorus, while the initially sweet love song “Green Eyes” soon defaults to “My own friends hate my guts/So what, who gives a fuck?”  Most telling, perhaps, is the closing “Goodbye My Baby,” an evocative (“the haunting light under the bedroom door”) but mannered girl-group pastiche that devolves into a stew of synth-knob twiddling and adenoidal “oh, yeahs” over a half-hearted groove – the sound of kids trying to convince us, or at least themselves, that they aren’t growing up. TC mark

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