“No Hope Kids” and haters alike must admit that Wavves have a certain undeniable charm. Let’s call it the ‘I’m-a-loser-but-who-gives-a-shit’ attitude. Or the way their surf-pop’s distortion bath fits their hefty acid/marijuana/booze-in-the-sun fetish – why are they so pale if they love the beach so much? – and whether you find it gimmicky or rad, it’s entertaining.
Afraid of Heights finds the real world catching up to snotty lyricist Nathan Williams. Inspired by public breakdowns, paranoia, “where is my life headed” crises and the responsibility of supporting your parents right after mooching off them, Wavves truly do sound more developed. Williams pursues these inner “demons” by venturing into new musical territory – mainly 90’s alternative/grunge – with some outside help: Top-40 big-shot John Hill (Rihanna and MIA) produced and Jenny Lewis provided backup vocals and weed delivery.
Williams’ and Hill’s decision to drop the noise-pop copious distortion trick exposes the songwriting. Some songs shine in this unveiling, and others were shown to be basically Weezer and Green Day covers. Probably because Williams listened to The Blue Album everyday when recording and they’ve always been more pop-punk than your average Pitchforker would ever admit.
“Lunge Forward” sees Williams sounding exceptionally Billie Joe-like while power-chord chugging at a “Basket Case” speed and complaining “you’re so fucking boring that I’m fucking snoring.” Maybe “mature” isn’t quite the name for it. The title track then lifts the “found Jesus” line from “Say it Ain’t So” and the harmonies of “Buddy Holly” with drunken apathy, but the outro redeems with a sonic split between kaleidoscopic colors and a Doldrums-feel from The Phantom Tollbooth as Williams realizes that being really high won’t curb boredom or reveal purpose in life: [LISTEN]
There’s nowhere to go
Got nothing to lose
When it comes to being high
Got nothing to do
Nothing to prove
When Williams’ inspiration varies more, the honest lyrical insight and added sounds really show a band growing up. His questioned choices on “Everything is My Fault,” “I Can’t Dream” and “That’s on Me” make the best songs on the album. The first two are droning, minimalist ballads, while the third uses Kim Thayil guitar effects and Alice in Chains harmonies to spell out Williams’ reconsidering everything and claiming responsibility: [LISTEN]
Do what your brain says
Take what you like
Soon it’s over, you’ll regret your whole life
It’s not easy as I thought it would be
That’s on me
It’s different. It’s better. But it’s still Wavves. Save for the “blown-out-speakers” touch.