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Wavves - King of the Beach

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Artist: Wavves

Album: King of the Beach

Label: Fat Possum

Review date: Aug. 3, 2010

Beware the job that provides just enough to keep partying. The danger isn’t found in the pitfalls of weekend excess, or the subsequent pitfalls of weeknight excess. It’s the realization that, after 19 months of crumbling cheese on chimichangas, you’ve become the senior employee of Loco Cabana, and the only staff member who doesn’t bonk on shifts. You’ve become management material.

Nathan Williams’ debut record, Wavves, seemed genuinely tossed off — as carelessly spazzy as you could get for someone who still put in the effort to get their bedroom demos into circulation. Fuzz rock chants sounded like half-finished hits and wobbly keyboard noise played like half-finished art. A few months later, he tossed off another album — more songs with “goth” in the title, more with “sun” in the title, all without sounding particularly sunny or gothic. Still, whaddaya want from a guy? He shows up, he crumbles the cheese on the plate and puts the plate on the table. Be careful, it’s hot.

King of the Beach is different: no “goth” or “sun,” and the fuzz is confined to individual instruments instead of the whole mix. The harmonies are out in the clear, and while he may still be harmonizing with himself, he’s playing well with others, too. You can hear the words, and you can judge the songs as freestanding efforts rather than shards of attitude. The songs haven’t softened — the title track, in particular, has a nice belt to it. And he remains a jerk: “Idiot” opens with an uncomfortable stretch of fake laughing, and follows through with a nine-pound hammer of self-loathing.

By the same coin, King of the Beach is hella mannered. Williams can put together a mid-tempo number and make you remember it — as ever, he knows how to pick a beat that makes three familiar chords sound different. But his move towards methodical song creation has made for songs that feel like re-creations, and his references don’t run deep. He jumbles respected bits of the last few decades — some Brian Wilson choirs, some Pixies twang, some shamble and noise. As he tries them out, you can sense him going through the motions. This is a career now, and it’s time to get the songs written. When he sings, “I’m just having fun / I’m just having fun with you,” there are hints of irony, but he gives up before it has the chance to drag the song down.

When he doesn’t have a rhythm section animating his songs, and without the hazy low definition, some of his traits become excruciating. “Convertible Balloon” is a synth ditty that’s clogged with kazoo tones and knockdowns of carefree youth. Other heavily tracked numbers aren’t quite as painful, but don’t know what to do with their longer running time. Perhaps this is stating the obvious, but Williams is better when he’s sketchy.

King of the Beach has a few decent approximations of beloved styles. Perversely, they don’t seem like breakthroughs — they make his old songs seem less special.

By Ben Donnelly

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