Album review: Wavves – Afraid of Heights


by Matt Juniper

Artist: Wavves
Release: Afraid of Heights (2013)
Label: Mom + Pop Music
Rating: 3.5 / 5

afraid of heights coverIn the two decades since alternative rock and grunge music burst on to FM radio, there have been few bands that have really been able to recreate the magic of the genre’s golden years. It is not like it’s an overly complex genre musically, but bands seem to struggle to find that perfect balance between the heavy lead guitars, angsty vocals and production. When Dinosaur Jr. returned in 2007 with ‘Beyond,’ effortlessly regaining their form, it felt like J. Mascis saying “Come on guys, this is how it’s done”. And it was hard to argue, given that I struggle to think of many artists that were doing 90’s alt rock that well in 2007.

Despite being billed as ‘Surf Rock’, Wavves are one of those bands that have spent considerable time trying to recapture the 90’s glory days. Their first couple albums took the basics of grunge and buried it in the sludge of intentionally lo-fi production. Short tracks, basic hooks and thick production. An impressive melding of sounds, all from a particular time period but it ultimately sacrificed what made any of these particular acts memorable on their own.

2010’s ‘King of the Beach’ indicated Wavves were an act capable of evolving and maturing their sound. The album was undoubtedly experimental but it was also more cohesive and finally addressed the band’s shortcomings. The production was crisper, the pop influences shine brighter and the ‘surf rock’ label made a bit more sense. ‘Afraid of Heights’ is a continuation of these elements and feels like the point where it all comes together. Lead single Demon To Lean On sounds like a melding of Nirvana’s angsty guitars, Weezer’s pop rock song structure and – oddly enough – Bush’s vocals. Another mash up of 90s influences, but unlike their debut, this attempt pulls together the strongest parts of these influences in to something truly unique.

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In my mind, this is the album Wavves’ brainchild Nathan Williams has wanted to make since day one. Coincidentally, it is also the album I have been waiting for Nathan Williams to make since day one. Sail to the Sun / Demon to Lean On are two of the best tracks of the year and an incredible 1-2 punch to kick off the album. Like all Wavves albums there still isn’t perfect consistency. The front half is stronger than the second and I am not certain a 13-track album was required at this point. For example, Paranoid and Cop send off alarm bells that the album is headed on a steep decline before Beat Me Up steadies things again.

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I encourage anyone who dismissed Wavves after their first couple albums to give this a try. Maybe one day Wavves will master consistency, but for now I am satisfied that they have mastered a signature sound all of their own.

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