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Album review: Wavves release nihilist, self-loathing record ‘Afraid of Heights’

Wavves came to be in a relatively short amount of time. Starting off as a noisy project of frontman Nathan Williams with two curt, lo-fi as hell records: the self-titled 2008 release and the elongated “Wavvves” in 2009. Wavves turned into a recognized, full-fledged band in 2010 with the breakout record “King of the Beach.” Three years and several thousand ounces of malt liquor later, Wavves released “Afraid of Heights” Tuesday – Williams’ most nihilist record to date.

Williams surpasses mere negativity and protrudes into self-loathing territory. On first listen, it is easy to relate Williams’ inflections to that of pure angst – his naturally whiny voice, comparable to Blink-182’s Tom Delonge, does not help things. This dreary mood however seems to seep much deeper. On “Lunge Forward” Williams sings, “None of you will ever understand me,” and on “Beat Me Up” it becomes, “I just want to spend some time with you / You can beat me up.” Not to mention the sonic hangover of “Everything Is My Fault.” I confidently doubt that Williams is asking for any pity or attention, but rather wants you to leave him alone. 

NPR.org describes the record as “an exact hybrid of Weezer and Nirvana.” It is difficult to pin what exact pop-punk bands influence any given rock band nowadays, but this record is just that – from the strength of the defeatist overtones (Kurt Cobain) to the chugging power chords (Weezer). Save the cello part of “Dog,” this album is a product of prior pop-punk records that attribute their listenership to not caring much about anything. 

Case-in-point: “Demon to Lean On,” with the playful acoustic guitar, has eerily similar musical qualities to that of Weezer’s “Pork and Beans.” Wavves is much more self-deprecating however, more so than the latter’s “Work it out at the gym / To fit my underwear.” Williams on the other hand gives up, as he sings in the song’s chorus, “Holding a gun to my head / So send me an angel / Or bury me deeply instead / With demons to lean on.” The only thing these songs possibly have in common are their undoubted ambivalence, though as revealed in the aforementioned chorus, Williams has internal demons that he graciously greets. 

There is a perplexing juxtaposition of Jesus and of Williams’ personality, which shows a complete disregard for anything holy. On “Afraid of Heights” the song says “Woke up and found Jesus / I think I must be drunk,” then in the chorus of “Gimme A Knife:” “I loved you Jesus / You raped the world / I feel defeated / I guess I’ll go surf.” Jesus comes with a strong connotation, and Williams’ reference of this figure emphasizes his disrespect, and furthermore, his apathy. 

Williams paints himself as ultimately doomed in this record. It is troublesome to decide whether the album is a testament to Williams’ self-loathing or to some unorthodox version of living life to the fullest. (Mind the listener, Williams delivers all these songs with fast-paced punk qualities and catchy hooks.) Confusedly, at the album’s finis, Williams comes down from his high in the atmospheric “I Can’t Dream,” moaning “Don’t wanna remember anything.” 

So who cares? Williams doesn’t. 


Grade: A-

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