Indie rock group Wavves released its fourth studio album,"Afraid of Heights," on March 26. Suffice it to say, the album mashes a surf-rock vibe with a '90s alternative rock sound synonymous with Green Day, Weezer and particularly, Nirvana.
Now comprised of members Nathan Williams, Stephen Pope and Jacob Cooper, the band has experienced some changes with its lineup since their last studio album, "King of The Beach," in 2010.
Wavves burst in with the opening track "Sail to the Sun," one of the album's highlights and one of only few songs that sounds like the material from "King of the Beach." If listeners pay attention, they may notice that lead singer Nathan Williams sounds eerily similar to Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong.
Stay tuned. That's a theme.
The second single, "Demon to Lean On," is where the '90s rock homage begins in earnest. Everything from the guitar-drenched sounds in the verses, to the over-driven guitar tone in the chorus all sound familiar. Even the nasal hook, "Holding a gun to my head/ So send me an angel/ Or bury me deeply instead/ With demons to lean on," fits within the theme.
That's not to say it's a bad song, but it's a little disconcerting how much the song sounds like a throwback. On tracks like "Demon to Lean On," it doesn't hurt the enjoyment of the song, but on other tracks such as "Lunge Forward," which genuinely sounds like it should be on Green Day's "Insomniac," it is too similar in an unpleasant way.
"Lunge Forward" is preceded by the noisier yet ironically forgettable "Mystic," and is followed by "Dog," which is an acoustic number with bells and cellos that is — for lack of a better word — terrible. Williams belts, "Still I'll be your dog" repeatedly. And that's about it.
However, Williams redeems himself on the title track, arguably one of his best written songs to date. Listeners will hum the lyrics for days, and the guitar work sticks to the typical pop-punk fare. It's executed perfectly.
Other album favorites include the jangly "Beat Me Up" and heavy-grunge track "That's on Me."
The last track, on the other hand, drags on far too long and never gains momentum. Williams tries different things with his voice to spice up the number, but the song gets old pretty quick.
The biggest issue on "Afraid of Heights" are the lyrics. Williams may not be a poetic soul full of wondrous ballads, but his lyrics on the album are lacking to say the least. He echoes themes of isolation, loneliness and occasionally introspection throughout the album, but his approach is tired, played out and borderline mediocre. (Then again, Wavves fans probably aren't listening to the album for the lyrics.)
"Afraid of Heights" sits on the fine line between good and great. It is well-produced, and listeners will be able to tell. The album includes plenty of memorable hooks and guitar parts (though basic) that get the job done well. All the '90s flashbacks generally don't hurt the actual songwriting, and the records that the album brings to mind aren't bad ones. Williams seems to have ditched his beach motif and surf vibes for straight '90s alternative rock. Usually this works for him, but on songs such as "Dog," "Everything Is My Fault" and "I Can't Dream," this approach falls flat.
Regardless, "Afraid of Heights" is a fun summer album that's perfect to play with the volume up and the windows down, or even at the first grill out of the year.
It may not be groundbreaking, but hey. It's Wavves.