Review: With King of the Beach, Wavves Abdicates

<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:King_of_the_Beach_(Wavves)_album_cover.jpg">Wikimedia Commons</A>

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Wavves
King of the Beach
Fat Possum

Wavves, the San Diego punk rock outfit led by early-twentysomething skater/slacker Nathan Williams, recently released this LP, its third, to the adulation of critics and fans alike. King of the Beach demonstrates a scrubbing up of the band’s once-abrasive sound, presumably for the sake of maturity and accessibility. And that’s precisely my problem with it.

I take pleasure in feedback- and reverb-soaked music that forsakes lyrical comprehensibility for sheer raw energy—a sound Wavves pinned down in its first two albums. In those recordings, Williams’ voice sounds as though snarled through a megaphone two rooms over, depositing a lot of “Oooohweeeoooohs” and distortions that embody the angst and ennui of a directionless teenager (“No Hope Kids” is a great example). It doesn’t matter what he’s singing about, be it weed, girls, or boredom; what’s important is that his I-don’t-give-a-shit swagger came across in the gestalt.

So why did Williams and Co. abandon the very thing that made them good? This is the most telling sign of the sophomore slump: A band fortunate enough to find a modicum of success with its first album or two, as Wavves did, inevitably faces the question: “Where do we go from here?” Wanting to impress critics and fans, to not appear beholden to one sound, and because of the increased recording budgets that fame generously delivers, the answer too often is “let’s surprise them with the breadth of our songwriting!”

Most times the reality is that such breadth is nonexistent, and fans are left with a bloated collection of songs that stray far from what made the band likable in the first place. Alternatively, bands may just not have enough time to re-create the brilliance of a first release. To paraphrase a wise musician, you have an entire life to write your first album and just six months to write your second. (Or in this case your third.)

The songwriting quality hasn’t taken a hit; if anything, Williams’ writing chops have improved, incorporating a girl-group influence absent from his earlier work. He absorbed the late, great Jay Reatard’s backing band and produced 12 tightly wound, alt-radio-friendly pop-punk tracks. Sounds like a recipe for a kickass record, right? Who doesn’t like the Buzzcocks, after all? Perhaps this is precisely the problem: In cleaning up the sound, Wavves now sounds like any number of bands. They’ve genericized their sound. As a result, to borrow Williams’ own phrase, I’m so bored.

KEEP MOTHER JONES CHARGING HARD

You're busy, so we'll keep this short: We need to raise $325,000 over the next month to help fund the hard-hitting, fiercely independent reporting you get from us. It's a pivotal moment for our democracy, accountability, and so much more—but you already know that, you just read a Mother Jones article. If you can right now, please consider supporting our work with a donation so we're ready for the hard work ahead.

payment methods

KEEP MOTHER JONES CHARGING HARD

You're busy, so we'll keep this short: We need to raise $325,000 over the next month to help fund the hard-hitting, fiercely independent reporting you get from us. It's a pivotal moment for our democracy, accountability, and so much more—but you already know that, you just read a Mother Jones article. If you can right now, please consider supporting our work with a donation so we're ready for the hard work ahead.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate