San Diego scuzz-rocker overcomes his demons in mesmerising style.
Camilla Pia 2010-08-02
Nathan Williams has never been one for welcoming listeners into his world with open arms. In fact he’s made things decidedly difficult since the first few Wavves tracks spread like wildfire around the web in 2008. Two hastily thrown together records followed (confusingly titled Wavves and Wavvves, recorded on his laptop and made up of reverb-heavy, rackety sprawl). Then, even worse: the singer very publicly teetered precariously on the brink of self-destruction. Depression, substance abuse and alcoholism ultimately marred his music-making and resulted in an onstage meltdown at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival last year.
So it’s with trepidation that we approach this third long-play offering. What is Williams to sling at us next? Sighs of relief all round, though: he has come up trumps with King of the Beach, a record that makes good on Williams’ earliest promise. Showcasing a cleaner sound and packed with super melodies and sunny harmonies, it’s a radical step up from his first two efforts. Yet it doesn’t stray far from the scruffy noise pop, experimentalism and emotional complexities we have now come to expect from Wavves’ output.
Recorded over three months in a Mississippi studio with Modest Mouse producer Dennis Herring, the album is on the one hand a defiant romp through bratty lo-fi garage punk. But there’s also a disturbing self-loathing and wilful love of weirdness lurking beneath each track. Super Soaker practically skips along, all buzzing basslines, bleeps and frenetic rhythms; yet it closes with William screaming an “I still feel stupid” refrain over the top of the sonic chaos. The infectious Idiot finds the singer claiming “I bet you laugh right behind my back,” while Green Eyes is propelled by beautiful tinkling glockenspiels, pummelled drums and chugging guitars. But its lyrics contain a dark diatribe: “I tried running away, but I’m not fast enough… I’m just not man enough”.
Most interesting, however, is Take on the World: just one of many album highlights, it’s a blustery and compelling mix of self-doubt and bravado. “I hate my writing, it’s all the same,” sings Williams, but then the chorus erupts and seems to give the songwriter courage to contemplate world domination. King of the Beach offers a fascinating insight into the slightly skew-whiff mind of this talented young artist, now well on the way to mastering what could turn out to be an incredibly inventive career.
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