Review Summary: A catchy, sun-kissed slab of California surf-punk.2 of 3 thought this review was well written
Wavves’ brand of surfy, lo-fi punk, which they’ve been perfecting since 2008′s eponymous debut, perfectly evokes it’s Golden-State breeding ground. They’re flying the flag for Mom + Pop’s burgeoning indie-rock roster along with the likes of Sleeper Agent – it’s their first record in three years since the acclaimed King of the Beach, and their first for the NY label. Afraid of Heights a bright, enjoyable jaunt through California sub-culture, boasting catchy, punchy riffs.
Afraid of Heights relies on a more leisurely pace than it’s predecessors. That’s not to say it’s without those sweaty, two-minute aural assaults we all crave – opening single ‘Sail To The Sun’ offers a tasty bass-line followed by a crashing chorus with a few ‘woo-woos’ for added sing-a-long-ability. The new approach is more visible on the likes of ‘Demon To Lean On’, which recalls Green Day in an era when that comparison was still complimentary. It’s firmly rooted in California (along with most surf-rock) but Wavves differentiate themselves with their noisier guitars. They ring less than their contemporaries, more similar to the likes of the Danish group Iceage and, at times, even noise-punk outfit METZ. Longer efforts like ‘Afraid Of Heights’ are unashamed nineties throwbacks, a melting pot of influences from pop-punk like The Hives to alt-rock. Simple songs like ‘Cop’ similarly hark back to a time when punk album tracks seldom pushed 2 minutes, though by the end it’s a swirly mish-mash of textures before returning to it’s basic, stripped down chorus.
The whole record is covered in a delightful sheen of fuzzy, warm nostalgia, but that doesn’t always work in the band’s favour. Not only does it revisit surf-rock history, it also revisits Wavves’ history: the tracks are all, of course, new, but it doesn’t feel that way. It’s the band’s fourth record, and most of it could quite snugly fit on any of their earliest cuts. Perhaps Afraid of Heights is just that – it sometimes feels a little restrained or conservative, as if the group are standing just off the edge rather than embracing the fear and crafting a definitive surf-punk album, and scaling the indie-rock charts.
Let’s be real though: it’s unfair to criticise a record for not evolving when it is as enjoyable as Afraid of Heights. It’s heartening to see Wavves’ commitment to perfecting their take on the genre, and that’s exactly what they do on what is probably their strongest record. A catchy, sun-kissed slab of surf-punk then, even if it is perhaps a missed opportunity in some respects.