Words About Music
I’ve been hip to the summer-y garage rock vibes of California-based rock band Wavves for several years now. I first stumbled across this band’s sloppy slacker aura with their 2010 defining-moment-in-Cali-rock-opus “King of the Beach.” This album gives you exactly what you’d expect from its title, and it still stands as Wavves’ best, catchiest release. Unfortunately, the band was unable to follow it up with anything that met that expectation. 2013’s “Afraid of Heights” and 2015’s “V” were both albums that had promising singles but were mostly forgettable and middling. The closest Nathan Williams came to greatness was the underrated “No Life for Me” collaborative album he put out with Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings fame.
Wavves’ 6th album, “You’re Welcome,” features the band’s most promising material in over half a decade. Given its cocky title and groovy lead singles, I was hoping that Wavves might return to something resembling a former glory. My expectations were still low having sat through the last two full-length attempts, but I know Nathan has a strong songwriter’s bone in his body, even if his lyrics are almost always straightforward and somewhat basic.
“Daisy,” which kicks the album off, is a sticky, easygoing track. Again, you’re not getting anything besides the usual superficial lines and hooks from Nathan Williams, but it’s delivered convincingly. This is also just generally a strange song for Wavves. It sounds like something Green Day wishes it could pull off, which I mean as a compliment because there’s an upbeat fun in this track that is undeniable. It’s a quick, 2.5-minute showstopper to kick the album off, and I think it’s one of Wavves’ best in years.
The album’s title track, which follows “Daisy,” is also a pretty strange, yet successfully executed song. It’s a bit more deadpan than Williams generally goes, but it’s also lively. I like the synthetic drums during this song’s verses, as well as the catchy chorus. It doesn’t really give much of an explanation or context for the song’s or album’s title, but it’s got a lot of personality and quirk. It proves once and for all that there is at least some level of versatility in Williams’ songwriting capabilities. For the first time in years, I feel like Wavves has a purpose in this cruel, sad world.
“No Shade” is a three-chord pop-punk banger with some experimental electronic bits thrown in. It perpetuates the unique vibe that this album has sustained so far by hitting us with a sub-2-minute track that is one of Wavves’ noisiest and most compressed tracks. There’s not much here in the way of lyrics, but it sounds like a drum’n’bass remix of a lost pop-punk demo, and I like how it adds some pizzazz to Wavves’ discography.
Wavves reach peak Green Day on the track “Million Enemies,” another personal favorite. It’s chorus seems to tacitly pay tribute to The Knack’s “My Sharona,” except in the form of a lo-fi garage-pop tune. Whether that’s intentional or not, it cements the song’s classic-rock-filtered-through-an-alternate-universe feel. In fact, the whole first third of “You’re Welcome” projects this attitude. If Wavves carry on this level of quality and experimentation for the whole album, I might come out really enjoying this thing.
“Hollowed Out” kicks off with a poppy melody (what some call the “millennial whoop”) and… a drum machine? Yes, a decent amount of this song is fixed atop a drum machine. The chorus is explosive, with its reminiscence to of Montreal if of Montreal used heavier guitars. Again, I can’t stress how simplistic the lyrics all over this album are, but Williams is really cementing himself as the curator of numerous interesting sounds and catchy songs with this record, so going into it with the expectation that you’re not getting forward-thinking lyricism is sort of a given at this point in Wavves’ career. If it means we get great songs like this one, then I’m fully on board.
I think the next song, “Come to the Valley,” bears some of Montreal comparisons as well, as it seems to abide by a more classic-pop structure with its far-off piano and hand-claps. Apparently the band was going for a sound reminiscent of Phil Spector and the Beach Boys, and I totally see that comparison. This track has some great harmonies and background vocals, with some way more advanced vocal and sonic tricks than one would usually expect from Wavves. Once again, Wavves is proving that they succeed when they step outside their comfort zone. A track like this wouldn’t be out of place on the latest Foxygen record.
“Animal,” which was this album’s third single, utilizes a lot of the same production tricks that have been in place throughout the rest of this album, which pleases me to see such consistency with such great results. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite song on the album as it’s not the most outstanding or memorable, but it’s a perfectly decent song, especially after the first half of this album being filled with some of Wavves’ best material in many years.
I have very mixed feelings on the track “Stupid in Love.” On the one hand, I fucking love the chorus of this track, with its vocal delivery and climactic guitars and drums. On the other hand, the rest of this track is pretty weak, and its lyrics are so bad it’s borderline indefensible in this case. Like, I can tolerate some weak shit from Wavves albums, but I think these lyrics are especially bad. I also really dislike the “La la la la Lola Lola” thing that goes on in the background. It’s goofy and campy, but not in a good way. Overall I consider the track a misfire, but it’s got a fantastic chorus, so if you put it on in the background and don’t pay much attention to it you’ll probably love it.
“Exercise” is another melodic punk song. I really like the drumming on it, but I don’t think it’s as catchy as some of the other ones on here. There are certainly many layers here that make it a more interesting song than your average garage rock tune, but ultimately it comes across as underdeveloped.
More drum machines envelop “Under,” a track that kicks off sounding like an Animal Collective sketch parody. Williams is really doing interesting things with the played out loud-quiet dynamic not just on this song, but all over this album. I think that this one plays the weird angle a lot more successfully than the previous two songs, especially with its moments of unrestrained passion. It’s cool how much he’s able to fit into 2.5 minutes, really filling out the song and making it feel like it’s as long as it should be. I’m also getting some Ariel Pink influence here with the sudden-shifts and occasionally keyboards.
The penultimate track is a revamped version of “Dreams of Grandeur,” which initially appeared on a split EP Wavves put out with Best Coast. Like other songs on this album, I have some mixed feelings here. Some of it feels like run-of-the-mill Wavves, but Williams once again comes through with a smartly written chorus. There’s also some cool added instrumentation here toward the end of the song, giving the song yet another explosive bursts as it evolves into a bit of noise-synth improvisation and guitar fuckery. Maybe I’m not mixed on this track… Maybe it’s fantastic like a lot of other ones on here… Hmm.
The closing track is a goofy ’60s high school slow dance mover simply titled “I Love You.” It’s an okay song that’ll get the hands waving at the show, but it’s sort of a weak closing track to the almost consistently high-octane album. After 10 tracks of kicking it up to 11 (with some mixed results), the band decides to close it out on a soft 5, which makes sense logistically, but doesn’t really work with this particular song. I feel like they did this thing better on “Come to the Valley,” but it at least provides sort of a change of pace, even if it’s not the most welcome change of the pace. At least I can say that it continues to allow Williams to shine as a songwriter when he branches out of his usual wheelhouse. I feel like if he pushes himself further and, GASP!, embraces some more hi-fi production values, he could produce something really beautiful and captivating. There are flashes of that here, but it doesn’t reach its full potential.
Overall, this is definitely Wavves’ best release in a surprising amount of years. I don’t know where this version of Nathan Williams was hiding, but I can only hope we get to see more of him before Wavves eventually calls it quits. I’d love to see him improve as a lyricist, but that’s wishful thinking honestly.
It’s not a perfect album, nor is it one I would confidently say I love. I think it’s great, and there’s a lot to love about it, but ultimately it misses the mark as a complete record. It’s got a lot of replay value to it though, and it doesn’t sound quite like anything I’ve heard before. I’ll be spinning this one all summer long, and who knows? Maybe the moments I’m not sure about will eventually grow on me, but until then, I think this is a very solid release that people who’ve given up on Wavves and who have an open mind should think about checking out if they missed it last month.
SCORE — 7.50 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Daisy, You’re Welcome, No Shade, Million Enemies, Hollowed Out, Come to the Valley, Animal, Under, Dreams of Grandeur