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Wavves — King of the Beach

Released by Fat Possum, 7/1/10

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Singer Nathan Williams of the fuzzy lo-fi act Wavves has seen a fascinating rise and fall through the ocean that is Pitchfork Media. In fact, Wavves’ relationship with good ol’ P-fork is a shining example of the influence the music website has had in the blogosphere over the last two years.

If Pitchfork likes a band, which generally involves a “Best New Music” stamp, the industry will almost always follow, and the band gets carried off on the shoulders of its newfound adoring fans, who promptly ignore the fact that the band has barely had the chance to figure out who they are as musicians, let alone as blog superstars.

The trouble with this formula often involves the demand for musical maturation that Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” stamp can’t guarantee. Sure, that first album was awesome, but how can the young band possibly live up to the stress of a demanding touring schedule and learning the delicate steps of working out their needs vs. what their record label wants?

Wavves’ self-titled 2008 debut drew much critical praise from Pitchfork, despite the fact that Williams had only formed the band about four months prior to its career lottery win. Not long after, the Wavves hype rose to stratospheric levels when the band failed to complete its set at last year’s Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona, after Williams — reportedly under the potent influence of ecstasy, Valium and Xanax — cussed out his drummer Ryan Ulsh and flung a string of insults into the crowd. That could have easily been the end of Wavves, but proving blogs everywhere wrong, Williams is back and fighting with a slightly more polished second release, King of the Beach.

With his second album, Williams has achieved yet another victory in which he proves to skeptics everywhere that all ecstasy and Valium cocktails aside, he’s got some serious staying power. King of the Beach hangs onto its trademark distortion first seen in Wavves’ debut record, but strips off one layer of scuzz to expose Williams’ catchy vocals and obvious talent for layering harmonies.

Despite the torrents of bad press following Williams’ very public Primavera meltdown, the album demonstrates Wavves’ ability to pen a poignant sophomore album containing bullet-like lyrics jabbing his haters yet acknowledging his vulnerabilities. After all, Wavves was named for Williams’ fear of the ocean.

In “Take On The Word,” Williams declares “Well I hate my writing / It’s all the same,” which is just a drop in the bucket of self-deprecating statements Beach produces.

Yet, while Williams is insulting himself, he’s always ready to defend himself against his critics, which in large part is what Beach feels primed to do. On the album’s opening track, Williams declares “You’re never gonna stop me / I’m king of the beach.” From this we can only assume the 23-year-old Williams is ready to face his fears (blog/audience hype) but he doesn’t completely ready to put the bong down yet.
King of the Beach may find Williams overcoming his demons, but the record isn’t pretending to be anything it’s not. Williams has still got a penchant for lighting up joints, watching bad TV and singing Kurt Cobain’s praises, which is likely the scenarios Beach will provide the backdrop for among Williams’ fans.

Of course, Williams isn’t all piss and vinegar — he may be willing to lyrically bite the hand that feeds him (Pitchfork), but I didn’t see him complaining when they award him the “Best New Music” gold star yet again.

See Wavves live at Rickshaw Stop on August 18th.