After some delay and a switch of labels from De Stijl to Fat Possum, 22-year-old Californian Nathan Williams is back with his second full-length of ramshackle garage-pop in a matter of months. Wavves’ debut was an unpretentious affair, decent for what it delivered but better for what it promised. The natural songwriting skills of the man behind the band were encouraging, and Dusted’s review ended on a hopeful note that Williams would harness his talents and stake his claim in a scene dying for a star brighter than Times New Viking.
Unfortunately, second-guessing the ambitions of an artist who seems content to skate away his psych-pop chops (as the cover image of this sophomore release makes painfully clear) won’t get you very far. And so it is with the follow-up, another album anchored in the current quagmire du jour of indie’s dramatic reaction to AutoTune. It’s difficult to tell half these songs apart on second listen, nevermind a fifth or sixth; even the catchiest choruses of songs like “Beach Demon” or “No Hope Kids” start to blur together eventually. Of course, the whole aura of low fidelity, low cost, low maintenance, and low stress is part of the attraction. Take out “goth” from any given title and you’ve got the Wavves mindset in a nutshell: California, surf, summer, beach.
When Williams isn’t towing the fuzz-pop party line, as on tribal thumper “Sun Opens My Eyes” and roaring space interlude “Goth Girls,” Wavves can get interesting. The fleeting moments between standard three-minute garage stereotypes certainly didn’t ignite the firestorm around Williams, but they might be the moments that save Wavvves from getting lumped in with the rest of its increasingly bland contemporaries. When Williams sings “I’m so bored” on the chorus to the most memorable song here, you can’t be sure if he’s reaching a new level of meta-critique or just musing about how hard life is as a kid in SoCal who suddenly had the music press showing up at his door in droves over the last six months.
In other words, Wavvves leaves you in the same precarious position as the first album. This is an immaculately timed LP full of hope (rather than delivery) that captures the spirit of over-modulated DIY near its apogee; if that’s all you’re looking for from Nathan Williams, Fat Possum is pleased to provide the product for you. But nothing gold can stay, and if Williams hopes to reach new musical peaks on the strength of something more than good timing, he’s playing his cards close to his chest.