Although Wavves are still fairly new as a band their sounds has seen a few iterations since the ultra lo-fi garage punk of their self titled debut album. As the roster and attitude of the band has changed their sound has as well. Wavves revamped their style into the much clearer and more digestible stonery surf punk of King of the Beach, leaving behind the super grainy and dissonant production of their first two projects for fun beach jams electrified through a punk lens. This year they collaborated with Cloud Nothings on No Life for Me which saw a melding of Wavves’ unique brand of post-punk with Cloud Nothings’ grittier and angrier approach to punk and indie rock. The most recent iteration, showcased on the new album V, unfortunately, feels like a misstep leaving behind much of the power and energy of past releases in favor of catchy pop rock with an emo streak.
The lyrics of V focus on the state of lead singer Nathan Williams’ life and psyche after a recent breakup. One would expect that Nathan would come through with his most biting, emotional and angry vocal performances on this album given the subject matter but unfortunately it seems like on the majority of this album Nathan is unconvincing while expressing the hurt that he claims to be feeling. His delivery on most songs on this album comes off as either overly whiny or apathetic. Nathan has taken a very repetitive approach to lyrics on this album that seems influenced by the songwriting of recent cohorts Cloud Nothings. On some tracks (Redlead, Tarantula, Cry Baby) it works but on others (Way Too Much, Pony, All the Same) it just leads to forgettable and grating songs. When Cloud Nothings repeat a line over and over again there’s a clear progression in the delivery and musical accompaniment as the lyric is repeated. This seems to be a point that Wavves had trouble grasping on this project.
The album starts off weak with the song Heavy Metal Detox, a fairly hardcore name for a track that perfectly demonstrates how much of the edge Wavves has lost on this album. This song (as well as many others, especially at the beginning of this album) feels defanged compared to previous Wavves releases. For a band that has built its identity around a rowdy, anti-establishment attitude they feel very subdued on some of these tracks. The songs Pony and All the Same are the worst on the album. Pony is musically bland and repetitive and the chorus is super annoying. On All the Same Nathan brings his voice up to sing a very whiny pop punk track filled with bad decisions lyrically and musically.
After that the worst is over and the quality picks up significantly starting at My Head Hurts (which features less cringe-worthy lyrics and a much harder, more expressive sound to back them up). Redlead is a good example of the positive influence that Cloud Nothings have had on Wavves and exhibits a more dissonant and grittier sound than some of the weaker tracks on this album. This blends fairly well with Wavves’ surf rock style and is a high point. Although the second part of the album continues to be of a much higher quality in general than the first Wavves still struggle to capture the level of energy that I expect from them. There are moments where I want a song to cut loose and go all out but the swells in intensity never seem to reach the high water mark I’m used to from Wavves.
Despite these complaints there are still some standout moments on this album. Flamezesz (despite having a stupid name) seems to find a better balance between the pop and punk influences. They’re also able to showcase some fairly badass drums as well as a weird yet enjoyable synth section that makes it one of the more interesting tracks on the album. Tarantula is definitely the best track on the album and is a good example of what Wavves is capable of when they channel their angst into an honest musical depiction of how they feel instead of letting it drag down their sound. Nathan sounds much more earnest on this track and the difference is like night and day. His emotive delivery coupled with music both complex and coherent makes one of my favorite tracks not just on this album but in all of Wavves’ discography. The last song on the album, Cry Baby is also a solid track that is able to shed some of the apathy that pervades this album.
There are two modes of feeling that I associate with Wavves. The first is the feeling of invincibility that comes with delinquency. The adrenaline rush of youthful rebellion. The second is the solidarity that comes with mutual rejection of the world in return for its treatment of all the weirdos and punks out there. Neither feeling is adequately represented on this album. There are not as many tracks on here that inspire me to mosh or shout harassment at cops or smoke weed on the beach as I would have liked. There are also not as many moments that inspire empathy between the listener and the band. Although the anger and sadness that comes along with a break up seems like the perfect setting for Wavves to explore these themes that seem to run through so much of the bands work, the execution falls flat. There are a few great songs on this album and there are a few terrible ones but the majority fall in a forgettable middle ground. The potential is there but the performance is not, leaving the listener with a “meh” feeling and offering minimal replayability.
You can also catch Curt with his co-host, Jesse, and their show Sundays at 10PM only on CisternYard Radio.