Release Date: Oct 2, 2015
Record label: Warner Bros.
It’s no secret that Nathan Williams is somewhat of a musical machine. After all, over the past seven years, Wavves – his 2008 project which has since morphed into a fully-fledged punk rock band – have managed to rack up a five-album discography, all while their leader runs riot collaborating and creating with various other projects. And yet somehow, having so many things going on hasn’t been a distraction for the outfit.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. In the midst of the one impressive streaks of creative output in recent memory, it would only make sense that Nathan Williams caps off 2015 with the best record of his career. His fifth full-length solo album under the Wavves moniker, V, is a culmination of not only a year full of extraordinary work, but an entire career.
Wavves may not have been the literal first band to usher in the surf-punk revival of the late aughts but they remain the most interesting remnant of its advance guard. California now sports Beach Goth music festivals, entire record labels devoting themselves to duplicating the lo-fi guitar crunch present on early Wavves albums and the cult surrounding this kind of music remains strong even as its initial crest wanes in the new millennium’s teens. V is most interesting due to its utter disregard of these facts.
Nathan Williams just canâ€™t seem to get out of his own way. After nearly derailing his career early on with a disastrous, highly publicized meltdown at the 2009 Pitchfork Festival in Barcelona, Wavvesâ€™ reputation took a sour turn that lingers as a nasty taste in the mouths of Williamsâ€™ detractors. Shortly after, however, he found himself redeemed with the 2010 release of King of the Beach, an exceedingly catchy album greeted with enthusiasm for its poppy garage take on the Beach Boysâ€™ good vibrations.
Wavves' 2013 album Afraid of Heights was an over-produced, overly gloomy album that coated their previously loose and fun sound in layers of studio sheen. It was such a detour into morose musical melancholy that it seemed nearly impossible for the band to ever get back to their brand of normal. Luckily, anyone who liked what Nathan Williams and his crew did before that record will be glad to know that V is a complete return to form.
Somebody get Nathan Williams a bottle of Advil. Wavves’ wild-eyed frontman has a raging headache, and it’s all he can sing about on his band’s fifth album, V. When we last saw Williams, he was a little less manic and a little more melancholy, though the latter probably had something to do with Cloud Nothings’ Dylan Baldi. In June, Williams and Baldi released the collaborative No Life for Me, a lean, nine-song set that sounds like a tug-of-war between Williams’ SoCal slacker punk and Baldi’s Midwest lethargy.
In The FADER’s recent article, “A Recent History of Microgenres” the magazine grouped Nathan Williams’ project Wavves with the label “shitwave”, with an accompanying description proclaiming it “Heavily distorted no-fi guitar rock. ” The latter two descriptors still remain true to Wavves’ aptly titled fifth album V, but the fifth time has proven to be the charm for Williams creating a project with less distortion and a more transparent look into the formulaic post-surf-punk aura he’s created during his career. It’s only when, on moments like the unexpectedly spacious “Redhead” where he laments, “I can’t feel my arms or my legs / I’m leakin’ out”, that you’re reminded of who exactly you’re listening to.
“Have I lived too long?” sings Nathan Williams at the outset of V, wondering like so many guitar-abusing snots before him if the oncoming 3-0 is really necessary. His probably-not-related kindred spirit Hayley Williams once surmised that 22 is “like, the worst idea that I have ever had,” and Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller once named a song “Nineteen” because it’s “not the age of reason.” Let’s not forget Art Brut’s Eddie Argos, who summed up his 28th year in a manchild anthem called “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake.” Williams doesn’t mention being 29 outright, because declaring “29 is the new 19” would be syntactically f–ked. But he’s either worried about his age, or about what he’s doing at his age.
In July, Nathan Williams became the latest musician to show you can take the boy out of indie but you can’t take the indie out of the boy: He got in a fight with his major label. Williams uploaded "Way Too Much", a single from his then-untitled new album, to SoundCloud, only to see Warner Bros. take it down. Without disclosing Warner’s motivation behind the takedown, he implied the label was threatening to sue him, and wrote, "Its so obnoxious to work tirelessly on something and then have a bunch of ppl who just see me as a money sign go and fuck it all up." On this, Warner was right: V is definitely not a record that’s going to make them a lot of money.
Wavves got started in the late '00s making low-fi SoCal pop punk caked with stoner paranoia. Five albums down the line, the angst is still there ("I'm slowly sinking into nothing," Nathan Williams sings). But their songs have never been sharper, brighter or more confident. Wavves' second major-label LP delivers bored-and-wasted bellyaching with glossy concision; "Way Too Much" is what might've happened if Lindsey Buckingham had produced Black Flag's Damaged.
In a really clever, niche and in no way accidental manner, Wavves might have come up with the perfect allegory for modern life with their fifth studio album, V. After all, back in 1997 Radiohead sang about a man who "buzzes like a fridge," anthropomorphising the daily grind with a neat little turn of phrase that still resonates 18 years later. V is an album that really buzzes like a fridge.
Nathan Williams the wunderkind is no longer. Plenty removed from the combustible young agitator who was also a prolific whiz of lo-fi, bare-bones-produced garage punk, he now sports shiny major-label digs and a production budget to boot. He doesn’t seem to squander it at all, rather he uses it to bolster his poppy, surf-soaked bent. (He’s also no less prolific, seeing that he just released a collaborative album No Life For Me with Cloud Nothings in June.) Since 2008, Wavves have gone from commanding a club and kicking one rogue beach ball into the crowd, watching while it pops around, to filling out a theater-sized stage, orchestrating a ceiling drop of a dozen beach balls, and triggering an oversized, sweaty dance party.
“Sorry if I woke you up this morning, it was early/The sun was coming up and I’ve been drinking too much/Drinking too much.” That’s how Nathan Williams, frontman and id for the Los Angeles punk outfit Wavves, opens “Way Too Much,” the second song from “V,” the band’s fifth album. But like anybody who has had to apologize one too many times for misbehavior, he doesn’t quite mean it, or can’t. “V” is a peppy album about the tragic pleasures of wallowing in poor choices.
It should probably be taken as a sign of out-and-out confidence that Nathan Williams chooses to open this fifth Wavves full-length with a line like “I’m not doing anything today / I don’t care what you say. ” Five or so years ago, he might have been savaged for that kind of turn of phrase; the general consensus, pre-King of the Beach, was that his well-documented penchant for brattiness was unappealing rather than endearing, and he also found himself, highly unfairly, having to constantly bat back against accusations of making ‘slacker rock’ - those coming despite a prolific rate of studio return and constant touring. The unbridled pop fun of King of the Beach, though, turned the critical tide in Williams’ favour, even if he didn’t immediately look all that confident in the aftermath; the 2013 follow-up Afraid of Heights was an uneven affair.