The soothing sounds that introduce Wavves’s Afraid of Heights just may take you by surprise. Delicate, tinkering, and all-together charming in the most sentimental of ways, opening track “Sail To The Sun” is a warm, glittering welcome to Wavves’s highly anticipated fourth LP. That is, until it really gets going. Still, Nathan Williams makes time for romance. “I’m gonna pick you up in my arms, give you all of my love,” he croons, before adding, “First we gotta get high.” Aye, there’s the rub.
Wavves have certainly come a long way, but let’s not forget who we’re dealing with here; Nathan Williams is the notoriously troubled, contemporary SoCal troubadour behind such nihilistic hits as “No Hope Kids” and “So Bored.” Hobbies include weed, surfing, long walks on the beach, and doing whatever the fuck he wants. Fittingly, the fun continues on Afraid of Heights, an album that perpetuates the band’s particular penchant for melodic melancholy.
Which isn’t to say that Afraid of Heights is simply more of the same. A lot’s changed, and not just within Wavves’s ever-evolving lineup (Williams’s latest co-pilot is Stephen Pope). What began as a much buzzed about bedroom project has since evolved into a full-fledged phenomenon, acclaimed releases and cult following included. Wavves have been an actual band for quite some time but, for those who don’t already know, Afraid of Heights offers further, solid proof.
Wavves’s latest collection features thirteen carefully crafted tracks, produced to sparkle yet still maintain that fundamental grit and grime. Nineties idols like Nirvana and Weezer are clearly given their due on Afraid of Heights, where garage-grunge meets sun soaked, west coast power pop. Williams’s songwriting has undoubtedly matured, taking bold, necessary steps forward from 2010’s King of the Beach. On rollicking first single “Demon to Lean On,” he shifts from dreamy and nostalgic (“ambivalent and young/but probably just dumb”) to hopeless and cutting (“no hope and no future/we’ll die the same losers”) quite effortlessly. On the edgy, jangly “Paranoid,” an album standout, Williams creates an anxiety-fueled world where everyone else is– quite literally– his enemy. The fuzzed-out “Everything Is My Fault” can be extremely empathetic, or totally whiny, depending how you look at it.
It’s clear that Afraid of Heights has afforded Nathan Williams a new found freedom. He hasn’t been shy about the fact that much blood, sweat and tears– as well as his own money– went into the making of the record. Maybe it’s for these reasons that Afraid of Heights feels like Wavves’s best work yet. They’ve taken chances– like the unexpected, charming little ditty “Dog” and the warped, 60s era trip “Mystic”– and found that the rewards often outweigh the risks.
In the end, what Afraid of Heights really represents is a sense of comfort. Even in the thick of his most dreary, self-loathing rants, Williams manages to perfectly capture the feelings of alienation, confusion, and general restlessness that exist only within a certain (this) generation. Will he ever reach that calm, fairy-tale ending that the album’s introduction subtly hints towards? Will any of us? He’s almost there, but not quite. “I can finally sleep,” Nathan Williams sings on the LP’s closing track. “But I can’t dream.”
4 / 5 bars