San Diego stoner/slacker Nathan Williams and co. take a sonic leap forward, and possibly backwards, with Wavves 2013 LP entitled "Afraid of Heights." For those unfamiliar, Wavves is a San Diego indie rock group who's sound focuses on somewhat of an alternative/surf sound with plenty of fuzzed guitars. I dont want to bore you anymore so I'll keep the introduction brief, lets jump right into the album!
For those that are familiar with Wavves sound then you know the phrase "lo-fi" gets tossed around quite frequently. However, this album says otherwise when in fact it sounds quite polished. My own speculation being that Warner Brothers Records were involved in the production of this album. Immediately from the opening track, "Sail To The Sun", there is already a sense of polished production from the intro of twinkly, glimmering xylophones and what appears to be piano and strings. These extended intros will become a recurring element, even the fadeouts of amplifier feedback.
As we get into the second track, and by now well known hit single, "Demon To Lean On", it may seem to some that Wavves may taking a step further away from their conventional sound as this track in particular purposely seems like radio rock. Many have compared the sound of this track and several others to that of alternative kings of the 90s Nirvana and Weezer. In other regards to that notion, one thing that stood out to me in this album is Nathan's darker, more self-loathing lyrical content. Whereas 2010's "King of the Beach" essentially was a good times album, "Afraid of Heights" makes plenty of lyrical reference to suicide, anguish, lost love, etc. For example, the booming chorus of "Demon To Lean On" follows as "Holding a gun to my head, so send me an angel. Or bury me deeply instead, with demons to lean on." Or, in closing track "Hippies is Punks" Nathan is quoted "Misery's a funny feeling. You always leave me with that feeling. I'm wasting my whole life." In all honesty, this direction that Nathan and Wavves have taken feels much improved to me as the painful honesty of the lyrics paired with the ever-familiar crunchy guitar tracks echoing a previous generation's music choice are a great pair. To me, it gets the job done better than the fuzzy, surf rock-inspired, slacker tunes of prior records.
All in all, I found myself to be able to listen to album on a full run through. However, I do not necessarily hold this as a perfect album. On the contrary, I found some of the experimentation on various tracks (i.e. extended noise and feedback collages, reverb/echoed vocal effects, movie samples, etc.) a bit overbearing and unnecessary at times. Track 3 "Mystic" or track 12 "Gimme A Knife" are good examples of such unnecessary elements. Another trait I found to be a drawback is the at times repetitive nature of the song structures, both vocals and music. Now some are gonna say "BUT JAZ', THAT WAVVES NICHE!" Well, yes and no. While this is the style that Wavves has build their following and fanbase upon, I do believe there is a bit more room for further structural diversity.
"Afraid of Heights" is definitely a great indie rock album, its simple and catchy without being overbearingly tedious, its a FUN album, seriously you can dance to it! Above all, its an eye-opener as to what Nathan Williams and pals have in store for us next. I give Wavve's "Afraid of Heights" a solid 8/10. Hope you found this review informative and enjoyable, peace and much love all!