June 24, 2010

Album Review: Wavves' King of the Beach

As a young musician in his early 20s, Nathan Williams hasn't had a very long time to get used to fame and criticism. His lo-fi bedroom project, Wavves, became one of the blogosphere's most hyped new bands thanks to a great amount of press from hipster hype machine, PitchforkMedia. When the web site dubbed the San Diego band's 2009 sophomore release "Best New Music" material, Wavves was thrust into the mainstream spotlight without even having done a proper tour, yet. Paying no attention to their lack of live show experience, Williams alongside then-drummer, Ryan Ulsh, set out on their first ever world tour -- and that's when sudden success became a bit overwhelming for the lo-fi boy wonder. During their set headlining the Pitchfork-curated stage at the Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, Spain, an under-the-influence Williams threw an infamous fit on stage, prompting drummer, Ulsh, to storm off (and subsequently quit the band) as the crowd booed ans hurled bottles towards the angry lead singer. Critics and fans alike turned on Wavves just as quickly as they jumped on their bandwagon months ago, leading many to wonder if Wavves' career was over before it even began.

Luckily for Williams, he was able to regroup. After some time off and rehab, Williams went back out on tour (this time, bringing the more experienced Zach Hill, drummer from the band Hella, along with him.) While it's just been over a year since the epic Wavves meltdown, the band's new album, King of the Beach, sees Williams trudging along in a self-deprecating yet cocky manner despite the side eye daggers being thrown at him from the hipster elite.

Williams has gone on the record saying he didn't want to create an album that sounded just like the last one. To pull this off, Wavves has lifted the murky, lo-fi production quality that veiled their past releases. Vocals are clear and the guitar riffs are crisp, but that doesn't mean that they don't cut deep. While Zach Hill has moved on, ex-Jay Reatard bandmates, Billy Hayes (drums) and Stephen Pope (bass) have joined the project to flesh out Wavves' sound and offer some much needed balance. The opening track, "King of the Beach," is a sunny, surf punk rocker in which Williams uses his snot-nosed vocals to conjure up the image that he is a brash, cocky beachcomber reclaiming the sand and shoreline he walks on. This beachy imagery mixed together with either confidence or self-deprecation is a recurring theme throughout the rest of the album's lyrics. Grungy rocker, "Linus Spacehead," has Williams enjoying his perch on top of the music scene ("I'm stuck in the sky. I'm never coming down.") while "Take On the World" seems to be an upapolagetic middle-finger salute to Wavves' detractors ("I'm not supposed to be the king. I'm an idiot. I could say I'm sorry, but it wouldn't mean sh*t.")

Stylistically, King of the Beach has a bright, summer soaked feel to it. The aforementioned songs coupled with the catchy lead single, "Post Acid" and "Idiot" are simply fun, energetic tracks built around fuzzy garage punk riffs and melodic choruses. "When Will You Come", "Green Eyes" and "Baby Say Goodbye" sees Wavves branching out into where many of his female contemporaries in the lo-fi scene (such as The Dum Dum Girls, Best Coast and The Vivian Girls) have made a mark by combining hazy bedroom pop with 1960s girl group melodies. On the completely other side of the spectrum, "Baseball Cards" and "Mickey Mouse" sparkle like sunlight with glimmering electronic loops demonstrating an experimental pop side a la Animal Collective that Wavves has picked up along the way. The only time King of the Beach suffers a slight hiccup is on "Convertible Ballooon," which, while not an entirely bad song, just sticks out like a sore thumb with its staunch Elephant Six influence.

For a hype band forced to grow a thicker set of skin in a very short amount of time, King of the Beach is just the right step for Nathan Williams and Wavves in their pursuit to silence relentless hipster criticism. Williams' lyrics may still reek of immaturity, as he shamelessly displays his flaws yet puts on an air of bratty overconfidence. Yet, it's that snarky attitude that made Wavves the band you hated loving in the first place. Wavves sound like they're having a great time feeding off the negative press and pulling together a summer soundtrack of sludgy, punked out rockers. If you're still hugging a grudge against their hype, the band will gladly show you the door while the rest of us enjoy the party.

Wavves' King of the Beach will be released August 3, 2010 on Fat Possum Records.

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