Wavves - 'Afraid of Heights'
"Mainstream" is a term often shunned in the music community, and would probably not be a term associated with San Diego lo-fi surf rock band Wavves. Their fourth full-length release 'Afraid of Heights' is still very, very far from being mainstream, but if you're a Wavves fan then you'll notice this album tends far more towards musical-normality than 2008 and 2009's 'Wavves' and 'Wavvves' releases (respectively), and have developed on the punk surf sound of 2010's 'King of The Beach', dropping a fair amount of that psychedelia in the process. To fill the 3 year gap Wavves did release the EP 'Life Sux', which did largely indicate the direction they would head in; and I think this maturer more calculated sound has paid dividends for the California rockers.
Throughout 'Afraid of Heights', frontman Nathan Williams' signature indie-surf voice lays down very solid lyrics and vocals. In typical fashion there's the typical slightly flat "I-don't-give-a-fuck-I'm-just-singing" lines; where the vocals are used as another instrument that is almost always present. Percussion-wise, the tracks are filled with that simple tin-y high-end cymbal, snare and bass drum sound that is so-often associated with surf music. The guitars are typical power-chord-esque grungy-washed out riffs with the occasional spacey phaser-delay picked bits that all just wash over you... like waves (or... Wavves...). The bass is pretty amazing for a lo-fi album, managing to find the right moments to drive the tracks on and feeling perfect on the moments to just ring out and open the tracks wide open.
While I haven't talked about any of the instruments being exceptional in any sense of the word; in a sign of their growth, Wavves have written their songs with conviction and purpose and have truly delivered.
For the entirety of 'Afraid of Heights', you literally feel like you could be in California. Similarly, I've got the idea that the music could be used as a montage for the antics of the trio from Comedy Central's 'Workaholics', and this would work perfectly. In succession the first four tracks take you on the fast-paced ride you probably wanted from the album, with the highlights being 'Sail To The Sun' and 'Lounge Forward'. The following two tracks, 'Dog' and 'Afraid of Heights' are little bit slower and "interesting". I'm not sure they quite do what they intended, and they're okay; but all in all they feel like a blemish on the album when considering the quality of many of the other tracks. The album continues strongly on with tracks like 'Paranoid', 'Beat Me Up' and 'Gimme a Knife'.
Amongst their normal influences, such as Dinosaur Jr, Nirvana, The Pixies and the Ramones, this album has a new array of genres the band have drawn on. They themselves were interviewed at the end of 2012 and stated that the album was 'Hip-hop inspired', and while this is NOT a hip-hop album, there are elements in a lot of the song structures and the production/mixing of the LP. The sound tends to focus a lot more on the beat than the rhythm and sometimes melody laid down; the previously-fuzzy vocals have more form and clarity than in previous releases. 'Afraid of Heights' is a nice example of how a band should respect and use new influences in conjunction with their old music.
At the end of the day there are very few negative things you can say about 'Afraid of Heights', without being an absolute bell-end. There's enough to satisfy Wavves' fans with the expected falsetto "oooh's", the grungy lo-fi post-rock sound that forms around the melancholic yet sometimes dark vocals. There's enough focus, drive and delivery to captivate newer listeners as Wavves venture into the territory of almost-normal song structures and hooks. For me, as a pretty long-serving Wavves fan, this is definitely sitting neatly in my top few albums of the year so far.