Album Review: Wavves, ‘V’
Perhaps indicative of the times we live in, the fifth album by L.A.-based indie pop outift Wavves begins with an anthem that celebrates the rebellion of staying home instead of going out. One can easily imagine crowds – and the band as well – doing frantic pogo dances to the song, titled "Heavy Metal Detox," its bouncy pep contrasting sharply with frontman-bandleader Nathan Williams' despondent lyrics about isolation and anxiety. "Havin' fun when I'm alone," Williams sings, "I don't have to put on a show."
Williams touched on malaise several times throughout Wavves' first four albums, but he's typically been more playful in the past than the side of himself he reveals on V. Conversely, this new material easily qualifies as most overtly poppy in the Wavves catalog, at least in terms of production values. Sure, Williams has always shown an affinity for sugary surf-influenced pop. But this time around, all traces of Wavves' rough edges are smoothed over by the polished recording style. Initially, these songs come across as glorified fodder for TV commercials -- something of a shock considering the gritty, textured sound of Wavves/Cloud Nothings collaboration album from earlier this year.
Still, Wavves jump so smoothly between various styles of pop from song to song that it's easy not to notice their agility. Take, for example, the way Williams and company rough-up the Cure- and Morrissey-influenced new wave jangle of "Pony" with a vocal line that intentionally veers out of tune at the end of certain verses. When the band ups the intensity slightly with a gently percolating rush of guitar riffage, the dramatic effect is magnified all the more when the guitars and drums fall away and the song opens wide. Or take the way acoustic guitars mesh seamlessly with with three different (and increasingly dirty) shades of electric guitar distortion on "Redlead."
After Williams' public dispute with Warner Bros. this summer over his refusal to make changes to leadoff single "Way Too Much," it looks likely that V will end up being his last dalliance with the major label system. In spite of the new music's polished sound, though, it never feels as if it's lacking for ideas, and here Williams once again shows how much he is capable of getting across in under three minutes, without ever leaving the audience wanting for more.