Album Review... Wavves - Afraid Of Heights

Two years since the San Diego surf rock group's last record, self-released EP Life Sux, Afraid Of Heights bears no comparison to the early raucous recordings of vocalist Nathan Williams. It seems no surprise that 2009's Wavvves and King Of The Beach in 2010 bore such an accumulation of gritty tumultuous fracas as Williams was busy living up the reputation as a bleary-eyed surf hero. After a gruelling public meltdown during the band's set at Primavera Sound, Barcelona, in 2009, which involved an onslaught of shoe and bottle missiles as well as drummer Ryan Ulsh decorating Williams in a full glass of beer, it looked as if the front-man was heading for the murky depths of alcohol and drug induced aloneness. A few grimy instances can't be held against Williams though, as Life Sux managed to boast a collaboration with Best Coast and an inevitably audacious number with Toronto punk band Fucked Up.

Afraid Of Heights boasts a cleaner production and gloriously richer sounds but still hangs on to traces of classic Wavves' rough-cut grungy vibes, a reminder that Williams isn't a fully converted sweetheart just yet. A deceivingly serene introduction to opening track Sail To The Sun is soon invaded by familiar driving guitars which give way to a hopelessly upbeat number. Lyrically, Williams is still in a vacuum of weed smoking and not caring about much yet hating a lot, including himself. "First we gotta get high" is an obvious starting point.

The Californian boys have enriched their lo-fi, couldn't care less sound into an ambitious entourage of organised instrumentation; Williams gives off an attitude of Alex Turner tinged smoothness whilst still attaining his scabrous edge.

Wavves can easily be compared to FIDLAR or Metz or another one of those surf-rock groups, what with all the grungy guitar uproar and talk of getting wasted on "cheap beer" amongst other risqué shenanigans, but Wavves succeed in bringing the merriness down a notch. Lunge Forward oozes oppressive angst, Lyrics such as, "I hope he kills us all" hang out of place amongst the infectious high tempo 4/4 beat. As if to disorientate any Morrissey craving listeners, Dog suggests traces of The Drums' trademark slurring percussion alongside melodic vibraphone phrases, evoking a refreshing break from the resident ear-bashing guitar brawl.

Williams begins to show his tender side throughout the album, if only slightly. A minimalistic acoustic guitar and chipper whistling introduces Cop, the most simplistic track of the record but one which stands out as reaching the heights of being an uplifting song. Combine the whistling and the hints of a somewhat distorted love song and once again, The Drums join the party.

Although it may feel like Wavves have dropped their low fidelity, deranged surf-grunge for a systematically produced sound, it's welcoming to see Williams performing listenable and catchy numbers instead of volatile outbursts. Managing to make bleak clamours captivating, Williams has made his comeback strong as youthful grunge rock is all the rage.

Written by - Emma Storey

Wavves - Afraid Of Heights
Out of 10: 8/10

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