Review by Alexis Viera
There is little more to Wavves than music and celebratory vice—a formula that has sparked many thrilling, adrenaline-filled compositions that keep listeners emotionally tangled in its misbehavior. Unlike most other artists working within the same framework, Wavves’s music unapologetically admits to the adverse nature of their decisions. Their most recent album, V, is a sort of high-grade remorseless hangover chronicle. This is the general rule of V: fuck up, intensely regret your senselessness, wallow in the glory of your own angst. With this album, the California surf-punk-rock group stays true to their style while making clear artistic progress.
V stands out from prior records in that it features a newfound impression of maturity. Contrary to what seems to be the norm in indie music, where financial security is hard to come by and hence where “maturity” means no longer taking risks in exchange for the practicality of money, songwriter Nathan Williams holds tight to his creative genius. Instead of compromising Wavves’s artistry for a major-label check, he demonstrates his own maturity by doing the exact opposite: not letting go of his signature pandemoniac sound while producing songs whose lyrics feature a more rounded narrative.
Consider Afraid of Heights’ sprightly track, “Lunge Forward,” and its repeated sentiment, “None of you will ever understand.” The song concludes with Williams begging for the end of humanity. So essentially, “Lunge Forward” has the same self-loathing, personal-inadequacy-driven message featured in most of Williams’s tracklist.
While the riff is not something that would necessarily seem out of place on V, it would not be the end of the story. The Williams of V does not casually belch out self-degrading appellatives without at least interrogating his own emotions, a (perhaps meaningless) shot at mature introspection. While “Heavy Metal Detox” screams about a raging headache, the dim voice of the pre-chorus serves as his reflective conscience, stating simply “I can’t decide if I’m getting worse,” while a more central voice later communicates hope in screaming, “I believe we’re not alone” over and over to conclude the track. This screams progress from a songwriter who, just two years ago, composed a song about stabbing himself in the brain because he loved Jesus until He raped the world.
At the same time, this progress is accompanied by a “relapse” in sound. V is a whirlwind that never once loses momentum, a stark contrast against the seeming melodic refinement of Afraid of Heights. With the help of pop producer, John Hill, on the 2013 album, Wavves polished their sound, creating a cohesive whole with slow, dirge-induced variation and even featuring the foreign finesse of a cello on the track, “Dog.”
V can be considered a return to form for fans of the band’s earlier productions, shedding the layers of studio gloss and returning to the loose, garage-recorded-sounding grit of previous albums. The 11-song record clocks in at 31 minutes, a furiously paced chronicle that manages not to overstay its welcome. It’s dynamic all the way through, and while it may point towards some sort of artistic regression, it seems more likely that Wavves is just returning to their true colors, maturity disguised.
So while Williams’s songwriting progresses and develops, V can also be considered a classic, trademark Wavves album. In addition to the rebirth of their chaotic sound, Wavves’s incongruity persists. Just as in previous albums, V is essentially one extensive paradox: If you don’t listen too closely, you’re dragged into this hyper-upbeat anthem of sorts, humming and bobbing your head until you realize you’re enjoying the sounds of someone’s deepest troubles. Such is V’s shiny wrapper—fun, dynamic, and rowdy—just as promised when hitting play on a Wavves track, but pay attention, and it sings an entirely different tune.
Characteristic of Williams’ writing, the album is saturated with references or implications of drug and alcohol use. He’s never been shy to own his vices—this is a group who has previously sold branded weed grinders at shows. Right hand man Stephen Pope makes it clear, “You have to be a fucked up person to try to make money doing art. I mean, it’s such a long shot [that you’ll succeed]. But [substances] help.” For Wavves, though, substances and all that comes from its abuse haven’t only served as escape, but as a continual mode of inspiration.
The opening track off V is “Heavy Metal Detox,” which repeats aching, anguished lines like, “Have I lived too long?” and “I’m getting worse, I’m getting worse.” That is essentially all you need to know about the whole thing: At the ripe age of 29, Williams thinks he’s lived too long, except he’s actually pretty stoked about it.
In fact, all songs on the album reference, at some point or another, some sort of happy psychological infliction: “Pony” features breezy background vocals and indie vibes that disguise its desperate lyrics—lines like “open wide and insert cure,” that seem so foreign to the vocalist. “Way Too Much,” like most songs on V, is bubbly and energetic with a tangible pop influence, while Williams’ voice ever-so-gaily croons, “I’ve been scattered and divided for no reason, I don’t know and it’s hurting so much.”
Wavves’ fifth studio album, V, is a weird combination of a possible musical relapse, some psychosomatic evolution, and classic Wavves contradiction. And whether or not you’re a fan of manic/reckless/undomesticated Wavves over the more cultivated Wavves we’ve caught a brief glimpse of, you have to admit that the band is a true freak of nature. They’re a group of guys who live in a constant state of insobriety, pump out sick records in this state, and can never get too into themselves to feel any remorse about it all.