It comes as no surprise that currently sitting atop the Billboard 200 chart are slick, mass-audience pop stars like Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, Britney Spears, Keyshia Cole and the teenage country-pop sensation Taylor Swift. I’m not here to argue the musical merits of these acts, but simply to point out the production value mainstream America gravitates towards: pitch-perfect (a.k.a. auto-tuned), immaculately polished pop music. Henceforth, the natural reaction of myriad bedroom boppers is to bury their equally catchy melodies in an antithetical layer of fuzz (via distorted amplifiers, old-school recording methods, consciously poor mixing/micing, or whatever). And we like it, whether you are more concerned with our favorite records of 2008 (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Sic Alps, Thee Oh Sees) or Pitchfork’s (No Age, Deerhunter, M83).
Wavves, né Nathan Williams of San Diego, is primed for this environment. He’s young, only 22. His musicianship isn’t stellar (probably due to his age), but it’s crafty. This self-titled debut for Woodsist is littered with addictive riffs, and each soaked in enough distortion and amplifier crust to mask any technical deficiencies. Each backbeat is propulsive, a keen lock onto garage’s incessant energy but with enough of a post-punk edge to keep the turned-up cuffs away. And most important to the kids today, Williams knows how to harmonize, and he is a whiz with the multi-track. With such enhanced vocal melodies and a balls-out style of playing, Wavves is most like a rudimentary West Coast version of Blank Dogs. Or perhaps a Times New Viking with a better post-production mix. Williams may be entering a crowded stable with this musical approach, but the sunnier Southern California temperament of his sound (however distorted) adds a surprisingly welcomed twist to the niche.
Though a solid and promising outing, Wavves isn’t a revelatory record. It fits nicely into the "scene," however vague that semblance is these days. In a musical community where the one-man frantic punk show of Jay Reatard garnishes high critical praise and manic collector urgency whenever another 7" drops, Williams is bound to shine. And his somewhat wholesome personality (in comparison, at least) paired with a keener pop sensibility will only further his attraction; think an aesthetic not terribly far from early Beck experiments minus the obsession with rap beats (see "Loser Year", "Here’s to the Sun"). The world is currently too depressing to just sit back and reflect, we would much rather bang our heads and blindly sing along gleefully. Wavves makes for a perfect outlet.
The question of how well Williams will evolve as a musician won’t have to meander for long, he has a full-length for De Stijl just around the corner. An excellent strategic move on the young man’s part I must admit. You’ve got our short attention; now use 2009 to solidify your position in the still widespread fuzz-pop underground. Until the second coming of the grunge aesthetic settles in on the mainstream, this tactical distortion is as important as the ability to write the perfect pop hook. Williams has the apparent capacity to harness both. Let’s just hope he has the where-with-all to get while the gettin’s good.