Muscular third album sees Nathan Williams coming to terms with the fact hip people are now into Lo-fi music, his project and, by extension, him.
If we are going to talk about Wavves, we should really start by talking about lo-fi, right? Any review of ‘King Of The Beach’ is either going to talk about it, making it obvious how the record fits in with Lo-fi’s trajectory and history, with much tapping over either the obvious death-throws or the surprising vigour of the ‘scene’. Or it will leave mention of the wider continuum conspicuously absent, focusing on the music, man, the only thing that matters, right?
Both are pretty flawed approaches – Lo-fi is a ‘thing’ now – it has lost the glittering façade of the new; the vulgar and conceited energies of youthful abandon have been replaced by its rapid trending in cool circles – “The Drums want to go surfing and you too can go surfing if you only head down to your nearest Topshop and buy this summers latest 60s inspired beachgothwear.” Some kids who were there in beginning before it was cool probably will start calling Nathan Williams of Wavves a sell out; like the guy’s cut his hair and started working in a bank. Some kids will probably just ignore it; they don’t pay attention to the overground; they are too busy listening to cassette tapes released by Rad Mark’s label, ‘Super Beach Gnarls’, which he runs out of his mom’s spare room when she isn’t using it for Bridge Thursdays.
What does this leave us to discuss? I mean this is all pretty silly right? Especially as ‘King Of The Beach’ is a pretty solid album and I’ve spent the last 250 words venting about how to approach writing about it. It’s a shame that the album title immediately draws our attention to the whole lo-fi hype. ‘King of the Beach’? Come on.
The rhythm section on this album is the first thing you notice. The addition of Jay Reatard’s backing band marks a vast improvement on previous efforts, adding whole layers of depth to Wavves’ sound, building upon the stripped back all-in-the-red harmonies of the self-titled second effort. ‘King of the Beach’ is in fact a whole lot less Lo-fi. Moments of grunge (Linus Spacehead is a straight Nirvana rip off, mixing the second half of Nevermind into something less than the sum of its parts) and Phil Spector (the dum dum-dum chish of When Will You Come, and the intro to Mickey Mouse) are submerged into its sound. Kurt Cobain once said he wanted Nirvana to sound like Black Sabbath and Black Flag molesting The Beatles, and ‘King of the Beach’ sounds like Kurt Cobain putting Phil Spector onto the crematory bonfire of lo-fi – so, where ‘Wavves’ was like being punched in the head by a skinny guy – it smarted a bit, but easily ignorable – ‘King Of The Beach’ has a lot more muscle backing it up.
It’s welcome. Though nothing on the album quite matches No Hope Kids from ‘Wavves’, Post Acid sounds so much more mature that it doesn’t matter – it breaks down two thirds in to repeat I’m just having fun, which seems to be the main theme of the album. Baseball Cards, oddly enough, starts with the sounds of lasers firing, before segueing into a crisp refrain about aimless wandering over sha-la-la-las and echoing fuzzy synths. If Wavves’ last album was trembling with the vacancy and despair of youth set to sunshine, then ‘King Of The Beach’ is just trembling, fragile, delicate – it seems that Nathan has been asking himself how and why he should try and repeat what made him famous.
‘Wavves’ was a watershed moment for lo-fi, bringing it out of Rad Mike’s garage and into the offices of those perennially cool kids who roam the East End of London. He wasn’t an uncool weed smoking beach goth anymore, he was a cool weed smoking beach goth – and this is an album that sounds like someone having fun with that and picking through the psyche of fame. The penultimate track, ‘Convertible Balloon’ is a surprising highlight; pushing a refreshingly different, humorous posturing that hasn’t really been evident till now, ‘Take on the World’ is also dripping with a self-awareness that his new position as torch bearer and sacrificial lamb that lo-fi demands to enable growth. In the song he ironically sings about how ‘his songs all sound the same’ and how he’s ‘fucked up’ whilst a trademark woo-hoo from ‘So Bored’ drones in the background. And people say American’s don’t get sarcasm.
Album closer ‘Baby Say Goodbye’ is again guilty of aping Phil Spector, and yet he adds handclaps and a rolling drum beat that breaks into a dum dum-dum chish, before slipping into an almost a’cappela refrain of Baby Say Goodbye. It’s five minutes long. This album is the sound of someone contemplating and thinking, taking his time, enjoying things, letting songs run to five minutes. Music, more than any other art form is slavish to the short-term trends of fashion. This album manages to deal with that pretty well.