[9 March 2009]
It can be hard to determine the relevance of a record sometimes. Should it be judged as part of a larger whole (in which case how does one ever get past the enduring, astonishing beauty of, say, Meddle?) or as a speck in a moment or movement (making just about everything important, if only for a second)? Does it matter if it sounds like a collection of genres, meshed togethe? Or is the construction of the meshed product the key?
Such are the questions that Wavves brings to the table. It’s hardly their fault. It’s almost unfair, since these questions also arise when listening to Deerhunter or No Age or Panda Bear. But now we’re heading neck-deep into territory we were merely wading in before. And when we get to the fourth or fifth or 10th band in a short period of time following a pretty narrowly specific path, that’s when the questions arise. (How sick of anti-folk were you long before Juno came out?) Does anyone out there remember a tiny little band called Further? I do. Of those three hands raised, who thinks Wavves sounds a lot like Further’s Grimes Golden EP? Ah, so you’re all with me.
But, if you don’t know anything yet and aren’t plagued by these questions, let’s start at the beginning. Wavves is Nathan Daniel William, from sunny San Diego. Wavvves is his second full-length but his first since bloggers discovered some songs and sent them out into the world. His songs, as a whole, sound like bits and pieces of the usual things artists who make “pastiches” construct these things out of, (give or take a few for each individual band): Sonic Youth, Phil Spector’s girl groups, Daniel Johnston, Can, the Beach Boys, Soft Machine, Pavement, Sebadoh, the Fall, Faust. The lyrics are mainly repetitions of phrases, talking about the alienation of it all in a young internet-obsessed world: “I’m just a guy with nothing to say / I’m just a guy with something to do” (“Get in the Sun”); “Got no car / Got no money / Got nothing, nothing, nothing, not at all” (“No Hope Kids”).
There’s an energy coursing through this, and records like this, that is undeniable. The love of noise of any kind translates into some splendid moments. A little more than a minute into “Sun Opens My Eyes”, William plays a 20-second guitar solo that is messy and so charming it becomes lovely. “Goth Girls” is an excellent ode to, uh, goth girls, as it starts with a silly interlude, becomes a little tougher, switches briefly to scary before it becomes both mournful and scary before it just stops. Much like the girls themselves. The ending of “Killr Punx, Scary Dem”, the closing track, is worth most of the price of admission.
But there’s also your standard fare. Several of the songs sound the same. There are a couple of atmospheric tunes that add no atmosphere. We all know by now what multi-tracked vocals under a sea of hiss sound like. And what is the damned obsession all these bands have with sunny, poppy harmonies? Is that really the only dichotomy that can be found out there?
So we return to the questions of relevance, of the big picture versus the immediate moment. Within the big history of music, Wavvves deserves an average response: a 5 out of 10 rating. But as for the right here, right now, if it’s your duty to forget this by the end of the summer? Well, from that perspective, it gets a 9. You all can take it from there.