As if Snacks the Cat wasn’t famous enough already for constantly being featured in photos and other things by owner Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, now Nathan Williams of Wavves has gotten around to featuring a drwaing of the cat on the album cover for his new album “King of the Beach”. Williams and Cosentino are currently dating, and he takes care of Snacks whenever she’s out of town. Funny then that Cosentino said in an interview that Snacks always runs out of the room whenever Williams is playing music, apparently not a fan of the loud noises he’s making with his guitars. As if attempting to incite conflict, the headlines on the web read, “Snack the Cat Hates Wavves”. Of course Cosentino was quick to react via both her Twitter account, and Snacks’ Twitter account, claiming that Snacks likes Wavves very much. It should be a point of pride for Williams, as that’s the most controversial thing that happened to him in recent months. This, after his 2009 was packed with drug-fueled meltdowns, broken limbs, and physical altercations with other bands. Wavves was a magnet for controversy, the Lindsay Lohan of indie rock, if you will. Stability started to come his way thanks in large part to Jay Reatard’s former backing band joining forces with him and turning Wavves into a three-piece. If Wavves’ performance at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival was a musician struggling in the harsh face of stardom, the new band’s 2010 performance at Lollapalooza was like a phoenix rising from the ashes with a show of strength, power and the purest of sarcasm. That sort of stuff is all over the new album “King of the Beach” too.
The first and most noticeable thing about “King of the Beach” is the quality of the production. Straight from the opening title track, everything sounds markedly clearer compared to the last Wavves album “Wavvves”. That album was fuzzed out lo-fi skateboard rock to the point where the recordings sounded almost purposely dirtied up to go with the spike in popularity the genre was experiencing at the time. So while it may have felt a little disingenuous, the melodies on “Wavvves” were largely addictive, but more interested in catching your ear by slamming it into submission rather than crafting more devious hooks. Now that lo-fi is no longer a “hot” thing, and possibly because Williams actually has more resources to make a proper-sounding album, that’s what he does for “King of the Beach”, keeping the guitars turned up beyond their capacity but making them and his vocals smoother and clearer all around. So now we can hear him complain in typical self-deprecating fashion, “I still hate my music/it’s all the same” on the song “Take on the World”, only this time that’s not entirely true. The new album has more sonic variety than ever, full of jangly guitar pop that actually focuses on verse-chorus-verse structures and tempos that range from speed punk to death metal dirge. So while a song like “Post Acid” can have you bouncing around in a mosh pit, “Mickey Mouse” uses electronic textures and Beach Boys-esque harmonies to occupy the same sonic landscape as Panda Bear. With its lighthearted 8-bit synths and upper-register vocals, “Convertable Balloon” feels like pure indie pop a la Architecture in Helsinki rather than anything you’d otherwise associate with Wavves if it weren’t on the same record with the other stuff. At 5 minutes long, closing track “Baby Say Goodbye” mixes synths, guitars and drums with handclaps, “la la’s” and a backing choir of voices that sound a whole lot like the guys from Passion Pit. This is before the track descends into a world of psychedelic white noise in the last 90 seconds. There’s a certain brilliance in how the record unfolds, and an even stronger testament to the smarts of Nathan Williams for taking Wavves not only to the next level but actually succeeding at doing so.
Where Williams hasn’t evolved on “King of the Beach” is in the lyrics, which are pretty much the same dark, sort of self-destructive tones as the last album. “I hate myself, man/but who’s to blame/I guess I’m just fucked up/or too insane” is what he says on “Take on the World”. And clearly acknowledging how beloved he apparently is, even by his own friends, on “Green Eyes” he says, “My own friends hate my guts/so what, who gives a fuck?”. It’s hard not to feel just a little bad for the guy, but with all the crazy shit that’s happened to him, at least he’s being honest and direct about it. That’s admirable, and in some respects it’s detached enough to where it won’t get you down unless you let it. Plus, the melodies are typically upbeat and catchy enough to render the depressing words ineffective. You could say it’s a shame that for somebody who’s made such big strides forward in every other aspect of his music, that the lyrics don’t quite follow suit. Let’s hope next time he’s able to get as creative with his choice of topics as he has in his musical influences.
With a name like “King of the Beach”, there’s very little reason for you to not take this record out to a sandy location and relax in the sun while playing it. This is ideal for tossing a frisbee around or even skateboarding. It’s also a great surf record, but good luck listening to it while waves are about to slam down on top of you. For a guy that many thought would just be a one-trick pony with nothing left to offer once the popularity of lo-fi died off, Nathan Williams has proven that he’s a far more brilliant musician than anybody ever gave him credit for, and riding on what he’s revealed to us on this new album, he can stay viable and weather whatever storm or controversy that might come his way. Haters be damned, Wavves is here to stay. Now if only Snacks the Cat would get on board too.
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