Review Summary: An ultra lo-fi aesthetic is both a strength and a hindrance for Wavves.
I can imagine the story of Nathan Williams, a.k.a. Wavves, as going something like this: the 20-something-year-old stoner was watching TV and smoking a joint one day alone on a couch in a San Diego basement. Bored out of his skull, the non-musician picked up a guitar and began to love the amp-frying distortion he was creating. Soon experiments in fuzzy melodic noise turned into basement demos and escalated into 2008’s Wavves
and this year’s breakthrough Wavvves
. In the course of little over a year, Wavves has gone from a bored idler to an indie rock curiosity awash with buzz, recently partying/performing at SXSW with Pitchfork.tv in tow.
Underneath all the hype, there lies Wavvves
, 36 minutes of abrasive and discomforting noise punk with strong influences of surf rock. It’s safe to say that Wavves’s claim to fame is the ultra lo-fi aesthetic that consumes all his music. The primitive recording and production tear his riffing guitar and moaning vocals into fuzzy shreds that sound pressed up against soon-to-be-dead amps. The result is a claustrophobic atmosphere of distortion that doesn’t let up, for better or for worse.
Rather than sounding too much like a shoegazing band in blending in to its wall of sound, however, the best songs on Wavvves
feature catchy snippets of surf rock and punk fury that pull away from its cramped quarters. The surfy riff of “Gun in the Sun,” the oddly anthemic “So Bored,” and the ferocious punch of “California Goths” are among the highlights in this regard. Drumming on tracks like “Sun Opens My Eyes,” “So Bored,” and the brutally grim closer “Surf Goths” further contributes to the album’s primal paranoia.
Not to diminish his songwriting chops, but it seems as though Williams mostly writes about what he knows: weed and boredom (well, perhaps goths could be included for obvious reasons). In this way, however, Wavves’s simplistic messages are genuine and pointed, from the funny sarcasm of “Gun in the Sun” (“I’m just a guy having fun in the sun”) to the disarming directness of “No Hope Kids,” perhaps the album’s best and most catchy number (“Got no car, got no money, I got nothin’ nothin’ nothin’ not at all”). As Wavves’s curious subject matters produce some solid gems, there are just as many points on the album where simplistic choruses and repetition drive songs into the ground. Forgettable tracks like “Beach Demon,” “To the Dregs,” and “Summer Goth” don’t escape the all-consuming guitar fuzz, and they basically pass by as noisy, middling affairs.
Back to the noise factor, while Wavves’s primitive recording is at once the band’s greatest asset, it is also it’s greatest weakness. Despite the album’s groundedness in downer pop melodies, periods of guitar screech, sound overload, and static fuzz make for a bit of an endurance test, even at 36 minutes. “Killr Punx, Scary Demons,” a throwaway interlude that sounds like it could have literally been Williams pounding on an organ and howling at the moon, demonstrates well the limits of Wavves’s lo-fi aesthetic and its ability to amplify the band’s unique mix of punk, surf, and noise rock.
To William’s credit, his short but impressive rise to his sudden burst of popularity has been about as D.I.Y. as it gets. But expanding on his sound with album-long focus and a harnessing of his lo-fi recording techniques are key for Wavves to have true staying power. Wavves has earned admirable and understandable comparisons to bands like No Age and Times New Viking, but for those familiar with Wavves, they absolutely know a Wavves song when they hear one. And here lies perhaps Wavves’s greatest strength and promise for future success: Nathan Williams has a sound that is undoubtedly his own.