Wavves Afraid of Heights (Mom + Pop)
To borrow a phrase from Point Break, Nathan Williams is a real blue-flame special—young, dumb and full of cum. In the past five years, the Wavves frontman has achieved a huge level of success even while he’s maintained a laidback, fuck-all attitude. Indeed, it’s precisely that attitude that’s made him famous, with lyrics like “I’m so bored” and “I’m an idiot” serving as rallying cries for the young and apathetic.
But on Afraid of Heights, Wavves’ fourth album, Williams suggests that he’s not as much of an idiot as one might think. While previous efforts found him banging out irreverent pop-punk ditties, now he and bandmate Stephen Pope take a step toward maturity, teaming with producer John Hill (who’s also worked with Santigold and Rihanna) to add big buildups and more texture to their songs, incorporating glockenspiel, cello and electronic programming. And at some points, the band even touches on deep, existential themes—albeit in their own stonerly way.
Of course, Wavves—who play at The Casbah on Thursday, March 21—still offer up plenty of infectious hooks: The tsunamisize riffs of highlights like “Sail to the Sun” and “That’s on Me” have an idiot-savant quality to them, sounding immaculate and tossed-off at the same time. The band also lets out a number of delightful, Beach Boys-style “oohs,” as they did on their last full-length, 2010’s King of the Beach. But the new album finds them digging into other, perhaps less carefree corners of the pop and rock canon—some songs are laced with nods to the emo anthems of Weezer (“Afraid of Heights”) and the carnal rock of The Stooges (“Dog”).
And while Williams’ belting voice helps him keep up pop-punk appearances, his lyrics are darker and more reflective this time around. On “Gimme a Knife,” his indifference turns acrid as he sings: “I loved you Jesus / You raped the world / I feel defeated / guess I’ll go surf.” He almost seems like he’s communing with a higher spirit in album closer “I Can’t Dream,” a hazy ballad that alludes to something bigger at stake than a pot-head’s sleeping patterns: “I was fucked from the start / So would you mind setting me free?”
Clearly, Williams has grown up a bit, both as a songwriter and as a person. On Afraid of Heights, he exposes his vulnerabilities in ways he hadn’t before and expresses his ideas and feelings with more nuance. Maybe this blue-flame special is a true-blue songwriter after all.