A lot can be said, and has been said, about 2009, for Nathan Williams and his band Wavves. He manifested two impressive self-produced albums in his parents’ home in San Diego, which garnered buzz from high profile music press, and toured relentlessly around the world in an alcohol-induced stupor. However, 2009 also had its low points. At the Primavera Sound Festival in Spain, Williams’ performance was a complete disaster and ended in a personal meltdown. Fortunately, the Primavera debacle may have been a blessing in disguise. Not long after, Williams hooked up with ex-Jay Reatard cronies, bassist Steven Pope and drummer Billy Hayes to back him on tour both musically and as a coping mechanism – things have since been on the up-swing.
Now that Wavves is not quite the one-man show it used to be, Williams & Co. have their chins up in 2010. On the cusp of the release of their ambitious third LP, King of the Beach, and the first on Fat Possum Records, the confidence resonating from the band is difficult to ignore – just look at the album title.
The album is soaked in ’60s surf style riffage, beginning with the title track anthem about the greatest summer pastime, hanging out at the beach with a cold one and getting a sunburn. But as the song gets to the chorus, Williams’ confidence is front and center: “You’re never going to stop me,” he sings.
What stands out most, looking back on Wavves’ past LP’s, is the level of production used in the recording process and how much the sound benefits from proper recording. The album was recorded at Sweet Tea Recording in Oxford, Miss. and the home of producer Dennis Herring, a sound perfectionist, known for his work with such acts as Modest Mouse. Sweet Tea is an obvious step up for Wavves, whose previous recordings were produced on a laptop in the suburbs.
The production is most noticeable on signature songs we have come to expect from Wavves, “Super Soaker” and “Post Acid” are straight ahead garage rock with those signature Williams vocal harmony overtones. Williams also slows it down at times, the hippy sway of “Baseball Cards” and the hopelessly romantic “Green Eyes,” show a leap in his song writing, but the subject matter is often very much the same – alienation, angst and self loathing – “I don’t ever want to leave home/I have everything in the back of my brain,” Williams sings on “Mickey Mouse.”
The new Wavves sound is most prevalent in “Idiot” – sure, Williams has used some form of primitive electronics to make weird spacey synth jams, like “Convertible Balloons” – but that, Beach-Boys-at-their-best ’60s surf-pop that makes the band so easy to get behind, is at the forefront.
Wavves has definitely made their masterpiece (for now). The band allows the raw emotion of Williams’ lyrics to shine through, all the while playing tighter and sounding cleaner, thanks to Herring’s production. For Williams, to take on the world really would be something, and in the era of beach themed indie-pop, we may have a new king of the beach.
Listen: “Post Acid”