As it turns out, fuzzy, apathetic, low-fi rock can still be pretty fun.
There will always be a time and a place for rock music that approximates the sensation of being 22 years old and getting intoxicated at the beach with your friends on a sunny, salty afternoon. Wavves perform this important, tried-and-true function of rock music pretty darn well. I can feel the salt water getting caught in my ear and taste the Pabst Blue Ribbon in the back of my mouth. This is unmistakably youthful music designed for not caring about stuff and wearing sunglasses. Low-fi production can articulate better than anything else the sentiment that trying too hard is for squares, and that smoking pot is still cool, decriminalization be damned.
I am willing to bet that Nathan Williams, the primary creative force behind Wavves, has spent many happy hours listening to the demented, fuzzed out splendor of Guided By Voices, and why not? I have also spent a great deal of time over the years drinking beer on friends’ couches or driving around in second hand cars on hot summer afternoons soaking in the pleasures of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. But while Robert Pollard of GBV is some species of mad, drunken genius, and his lyrics explode like linguistic pyrotechnics in your mind, Nathan Williams’ slacker, "I don’t give a shit" shtick feels just a little bit too authentic, and his lyrics about how bored he is are, indeed, pretty boring.
The songs on Waaves’ new album Afraid of Heights are mostly about drinking beer, being bored, and girls, and stuff. Here's a lyrical sample from a track called "Lunge Forward": "I wake up and stretch my arms / You’re fucking boring / It doesn’t mean a thing to me / Still asleep inside my head, I’m fucking snoring / It doesn’t mean a thing to me / None of you will ever understand me." So you pretty much get the idea. Williams’ millennial malaise is a far cry from the feverish, boozy poetry that came belching out of Robert Pollard in such staggering quantities in the 1990s. GBV distilled rock music down to its most basic, joyous essence, and their low-fi, slacker vibe was really just misdirection. Waaves do not come close to GBV’s smarts, inspiration, or creativity, but they do combine GBV's fuzzy, jangly guitars, howling vocals, and catchy hooks to offer up some very enjoyable songs on Afraid of Heights.
Mid-album clap-along "Cop" will put a big stony smile on just about anyone’s face, as layers of distorted guitars build to an unpretentious, to-the-point climax before the song calls it quits at a restrained 1:56. It's clear that Waaves have at least learned from GBV that less is often more. These songs are catchy and fun, and will probably be a big hit at all of the boozy, druggy outdoor festivals that Waaves are destined to play this year. As summer approaches, and even aging, nostalgic children of the Clinton administration like myself start eyeing cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon and bottles of sunscreen, Waaves offer some addictively catchy tunes that, while somewhat empty and lacking in substance, are still good, hazy fun. So have at it my apathetic, over-medicated millennial friends: put some Waaves on your Iphone, refill your Xanax prescription, and let’s go to the beach.