Burying melodies in layers of distortion isn’t anything new to rock ‘n’ roll. The Velvet Underground pioneered it in the ’60s, punk rockers did it by necessity in the ’70s, the Jesus and Mary Chain reinvented it in the ’80s, My Bloody Valentine perfected it in the ’90s. A simplified history of rock music is just a series of guys writing pop songs and then seeing how much noise they can inject into them.
The latest resurgence of this proud tradition seems to be centered on the West Coast. No Age and similar bands based around the Smell scene in L.A. are releasing albums full of heavily distorted guitar washes alternating with perfectly rendered pop melodies. Wavves isn’t associated directly with No Age or the Smell but has much in common with their aesthetic. It’s not a reinvention, but it’s an interesting evolution.
Wavves is the alias of Nathan Williams, a 22-year-old slacker punk from San Diego who writes pop songs and then records them directly to four track. And Wavvves, his sophomore release, sounds like what you would expect from such a person. The cover art is the first clue: His melodies suit that sunny California atmosphere perfectly, the lo-fi grain of the recording matches the lo-res grain of the photo, and the whole thing is done with the slacker attitude that old-school skateboards and homemade ramps would suggest.
There’s one caveat that’s inherent here, though. While the first-take simplicity of the recording is ideal for Wavves’ songs when the melodies are strong enough to stand on their own, there are parts of the album that would benefit greatly from some rehashing and re-recording.
“More Fur,” is the best example of this problem. It consists of delayed vocals and droning guitar that never cohere into a fully formed song in its four-minute run. It sounds like Williams is experimenting with a new delay pedal and recording whatever happens, and songs like these distract from the more developed ones that make up the majority of the record. By contrast, “Get in the Sun” is an example of Williams at his best. The simple guitar hook is immediately engrossing, and the vocals sound like they’re constantly in the red, which somehow makes the melody even catchier. “No Hope Kids” is a more down-tempo track that showcases Williams’ simple Ramones-like songwriting. His lazy drawl is actually discernible on this song as he laments, “Got no car, got no money.”
Williams’ recording technique benefits Wavves more than it detracts from it. His songs are good enough no matter how they are recorded, and the lo-fi buzz of his four-track allows for any imperfections in the songs’ execution. A few tracks here sound less like fully developed songs and more like a college-age kid tinkering with a four-track, but overall, Williams hits more than he misses. A little bit of self-indulgence can be forgiven for pop songs as good as these.