Wavves – King of the Beach

I recently noticed that I’ve been using the world “indignant” a lot lately. Now, I could take this as a sign that I’ve exhausted my vocabulary and that I should probably spend my time reading more books instead of listening to so many albums. If that’s the case, then that’s a damn shame because I enjoy music too much to care. So, it seems there must be another reason for my adjective abuse. I’m inclined to believe that the term has just become too pertinent nowadays in my efforts to make sense of the music world surrounding me. Artist after artist rises to the forefront, each seething in their own flames of indignant ire and choosing to direct their fires of war at some entity; a lover, an institution, the fact that cats can’t talk. As all things go, frequent use breeds habit. Indignant’s a good word because it’s a fitting one, and too frequently fitting, perhaps.

Laurie Anderson’s bloated self-esteem and ill-founded political indignation recently manifested itself as Homeland. Girls get all giddy when Cage the Elephant express indignation at critics for “not getting” the meaning behind their shallow, self-obsessed lyrics. Hell, hormone-fueled indignation with a hearty dash of anti-Bush delusion puts food on Green Day’s table to this day. Here’s your 21st century key to success: if you’re in a band, seek a target audience with an imaginary chip on their collective shoulder and a mutual hatred for something or someone (or everything). Now defame that person or thing mercilessly; the faithful fans will come in droves. Don’t believe me? Look at Eminem. Who knows, if you’re vague enough, you might even be able to swing a gig with a major record label.

Enter King of the Beach. This is Wavves’ most recent outing since his blog-enflaming, critic-dividing Wavvves, an album that was as divisive and unapproachable as it was a rough gem of songwriting potential. Since then, controversy has always surrounded Wavves and Nathan Williams, the boy behind it. Seems Beach Boys worship coated in ultra-distortion to the point where lyrics disintegrate beneath the crackle isn’t for everybody. His stage antics in Spain didn’t help the public down the pill any easier, either, what with the tears and the insults and flying beer bottles and all. King of the Beach answers the listeners’ concerns on one account: distortion has been ousted in favor of overdrive and reverb. The new Wavves, backed by Jay Reatard’s old band, sounds a lot like the late garage hero’s rock. With Williams’ writing and lyrical themes and Reatard’s performers, Wavves is now very much the sum of its parts. Even so, King of the Beach is damn catchy, regardless of how fuzzy it may or may not be.

While the dominant mantra here might be more misery than misanthropy, Williams reaps his harvest from the same briar patch as those who exercise their contempt more often than their calves. His story is one of constant self-depreciation, yet behind that façade of weakness lies a burning indignation for those who made him feel that way. On “Idiot,” he encourages his assailants, saying “Laugh/ I beg you laugh right behind my back.” “So Bored” from Williams’ Wavvves days displays his contempt for the “jerks” set back in the days of skater kid childhood, perhaps a relic from his past growing up in southern California. It’s always been there, that indignation, seething on the fringes of his own diminished self-worth. Yet now, he’s joined his dissenters in sound more so than before.

Taking “Baseball Cards” for its face value is easy enough, which is saying a lot for Wavves. The playful handclap rhythm and breezy vocals give the perfect impression of a sunset beach tune, but Williams, true to form, moans low-mood downers like “I don’t wanna walk outside” in the chorus over the carefree atmosphere. He complains of being bogged down while playing Nintendo by someone’s “unbearable tone” in the oddly Of Montreal-like “Convertible Balloon.” Later, he calls himself not man enough to find a lover and then goes on to declare “My old friends hate me, but I don’t give a shit” in the emotional see-saw “Green Eyes.” For lyrics that nearly always express some form of boredom or contempt, the Wavves catalogue still remains audibly upbeat. Of course, if he was as passive as he likes to let off, he wouldn’t have marched off that Barcelona stage in tears. There’s obviously some ire burning inside him, both for others and himself. Yet if it weren’t for the lyrics, there would be nothing in his music’s tone to suggest so. Because of this, King of the Beach is not only possible to enjoy like a whimsical summer record, it’s perhaps the best summer record we’ve seen all year.

The most immediately arresting phenomenon about this album, one that’ll instantly make itself known from the first buckshot-loaded power chord in opening track “King of the Beach,” is that this simply isn’t the Wavvves Wavves we knew from last year. I once heard a friend call single “Post Acid” the, and I quote, “the most alt-rocky piece of post-90’s bullshit since ‘My Own Worst Enemy.’” I’m quite fond of this song, and with good reason, so of course I use it to annoy the shit out of him whenever he least expects it, even if it means sending a text message reading “WITH YOU-U-U-U!” at 2 in the morning. But that’s irrelevant. The point is that he’s not alone in his contempt for King of the Beach. Even some Wavves fans are quibbling at his stylistic u-turn. Williams has lost the lo-fi aesthetic that got bloggers interested in the first place and has adopted something more conventional, more retro, more tried-and-true than Wavvves. The irony lies in the fact that in doing so, he’s also become all the more contemporary. King of the Beach is early Beach Boys, it’s the Clash, it’s 90’s kid punk and shoegaze. It’s Astro Coast, it’s Crazy for You, maybe even a little Contra, and all at the same time. Williams, like any other kid confronted with his unsettling eccentricities, is trying to fit in by embracing today’s fads, even if they’re yesterday’s fads too.

Now, this may be less tragedy than it is an auspicious revamping of his game plan. More dubious critics (and Psychedelic Horseshit, but then again who cares about Psychedelic Horseshit) insisted that Williams was so trigger-happy with his distortion pedals out of an attempt to mask his absence of talent. Wavvves, some might insist, was a masquerade, a ruse to rocket his fame in the underground world while hiding his musical incompetence behind mottled walls of fuzz. Of course, that assertion is just plain retarded, even if it wasn’t refuted by the clear visage of talent on Wavvves. It IS evident that he didn’t have the vision to nail the lo-fi aesthetic as potently as, for example, No Age did. His skill as a writer of hook-based guitar punk shone through the brightest, boldly from beneath the smothering haze, in fact despite it. His talent existed; it simply was required elsewhere. Now he’s finally cornered it, and he has every right to feel indignant towards his haters.

by Mason “I’d say I’m sorry, but it wouldn’t mean shit” McGough

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