Review: “Afraid of Heights” by Wavves

For being just 26 years of age, Wavves’ frontman Nathan Williams has lumped together a pretty impressive résumé. His second full-length, “Wavvves,” garnered rave reviews from music critics, he experienced a public meltdown at Primavera in 2009, and then seemingly rose from the ashes, recruiting bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes and releasing “King of the Beach” in 2010. Altogether, Williams has released three albums and an EP, not to mention a couple of mixtapes with his brother, and has returned with Pope for Wavves’ latest long play, “Afraid of Heights.”

Coincidentally, “Afraid of Heights” begins with the first two songs released by Wavves, but the ordering almost seems logical. “Sail to the Sun” opens with a church-like hymn that precedes a rolling bassline and the trademark Wavves sound made famous by the previous LP. “Demon to Lean On,” a power chord-rich track that’s reminiscent of the grungy radio hits heard in the 90’s, follows, acting as a sampler for the direction the band has seemed to be heading towards since its EP, “Life Sux.” You immediately get the best of both worlds: classic Wavves surf rock and Weezer-inspired alternative.

It’s no surprise, then, that the third track, “Mystic,” is a taste of the lo-fi sound that was prominent on Williams’ first two albums recorded through GarageBand at his parents’ home. And don’t forget “Cop,” which exhibits the almost playful tone similar to tracks such as “Convertible Balloon” and “Baby Say Goodbye” from 2010’s LP. Wavves is obviously sticking to what they do best, but this time around, they’re doing it better.

The thing that makes “Afraid of Heights” stand out from “King of the Beach” is the obvious artistic growth between the two albums, and it all begins with Williams’ lyrical prowess. Williams’ lyrics are still quite similar to the previous albums, albeit much darker and angst filled – not to mention death-obsessed – but the difference comes in the context. He continues to sing about getting high and drinking, but it’s more of a medicine – helping him cope with anxiety and paranoia – than it is for fun.

There’s also the many contradictions heard throughout the album – for instance, the line in “That’s On Me”: “Do you believe me?/I don’t believe in anything.” Additionally, Williams coarsely repeats the line “Everything is my fault” in the track of the same name, which rings like some sort of self-loathing mantra. These are all signs of maturity and sophistication, something that was lacking in Wavves’ previous records.

While they continue to build on the things that make them so good, Williams and his partner in crime, Pope, also aren’t afraid to move outside their comfort zone. The duo, and I stress duo, used just about everything except the kitchen sink, breaking out cellos and glockenspiels in tracks such as “Dog,” a catchy tune about unconditional love that stands out amidst the band’s pop-punk repertoire, and “Cop,” a love song involving a police-killing homosexual. It should be noted that no longer is this simply Williams’ solo project. Pope’s bass is more prominent than ever, not to mention the role he had in the songwriting and recording processes, hence why duo should be stressed.

When it’s all said and done, even with the unconventional instruments, top-notch production thanks to John Hill, and a more mature sound, “Afraid of Heights” still features the same Wavves that produced “Idiot” and “Bug.” Whether it’s “Paranoid,” an agoraphobic’s anthem, or the Green Day inspired track “Gimme A Knife,” in which Williams sings in a very Billie Joe Armstrong-esque voice, “Gimme a knife/I’ll put the knife in my brain,” the band’s fourth LP continues to deliver fast-paced, catchy punk rock that could be held in the same regard as some of the work of yesteryear’s best pop-punk groups. Perhaps this is this generation’s “Dude Ranch,” or maybe the next “Dookie,” albeit a little more pessimistic? 9/10