Wavves, aka 22-year-old Nathan Williams, makes music far removed from the high-gloss production ethics prevalent in so many 2009 debuts. In fact, some have coined a phrase for the kind of music Wavves make; they call it Shitgaze, as in Shoegaze, but more abrasive and louder. And no, we’re not making this up.
Second album Wavvves – the follow-up to last year’s equally lo-fi self-titled debut (there’s a third ‘v’ this time) – sounds like it was recorded in a cave on a Dictaphone with Williams fuzz guitar pressed firmly against the recorder. It’s an alarmingly distorted listen, with surf-pop guitar riffs and cheap drum beats smudged beyond recognition, Williams’ reverb-soaked voice buried amongst the din.
Miraculously, and to Williams’ infinite credit, it’s also incredibly enjoyable. Songs such as So Bored and Beach Demon feature pop hooks as catchy as anything on the radio right now, the former melding simple beats, a sluggish guitar riff and cheesy backing vocals to create the best slacker anthem since Beck‘s Loser. The fact you can’t hear a word apart from the chorus of “I’m so bored” only adds to its magic. No Hope Kids is slightly more sophisticated, Williams creating a tribute to youthful stoicism through drawling vocals, detuned guitar and urgent drums.
The real skill of this album lies in the fact that it draws you into its world from the outset, the listener immediately becoming accustomed to the cacophony. It helps too that the actual songs are nearly always the most important part, with melodies and hooks shining through the fog. Only on the experimental Killr Punx, Scary Demons and Goth Girls does the noise become unbearable, the latter sounding like Sonic Youth detuning (which only they can seem to make bearable).
One cursory glance at the track listing tells you all you need to know about the lyrical content of Wavvves. Subjects that appear more than once include the beach, skateboarding, the sun, smoking weed and, weirdly, an obsession with Goths. A number of songs deal with just bumming about with your mates or being pissed off with whatever. They may not be deep or particularly meaningful, but there’s a kind of slacker charm that for all their sense of ennui creates a real energy when mixed with the music.
It goes without saying that Wavvves is an album that won’t appeal to everyone. It’s so badly mixed that if you were to play it out of some brand new speakers you’d probably burst an eardrum. But it’s also a deceptively clever album, one that uses its distortion as a smoke screen to cover surf rock hooks and sun-dazed lyrics of a youth already lost. The next obstacle for Wavves will be deciding whether to ditch the bedroom and work in an actual studio, but for now these lo-fi pop gems are more than enough to be getting on with.