Nathan Williams, the young vocalist of San Diego surf rock group Wavves, is one busy guy. After being featured on Big Boi’s sophomore record and creating three consecutive Wavves albums in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively, Williams has found the time to formulate this year’s anticipated Afraid of Heights. Since their previously acclaimed record King of the Beach, Williams has made some bold decisions with enhancing his band’s sound and label (they switched record labels, from Fat Possum to Mom + Pop). Although Afraid of Heights isn’t as vibrant as its predecessor or as psychedelic as Wavves’ first two self-titled albums, it still provides a plethora of diverse and engaging music. Wavves mixes early 90s punk rock with modern surf/indie/prog rock and some garage and psychedelic lo-fi. Their sound then translates into the endless depths of Afraid of Heights to intensify and stimulate the album’s themes of depression, death, paranoia, self-destruction, sociopathy, loneliness, and psychological fears (hence the title Afraid of Heights).
Despite these negative and disheartening subjects, the album actually emanates a vivid and lively atmosphere. Some songs are easy to listen to, such as the twinkly-turned-head-banging opener “Sail to the Sun,” the Weezer-esque tune “Demon to Lean On,” and the woozy lo-fi title track. However, other tracks are much more complicated, both thematically and audibly: “Mystic” is a snippet of rumbly grunge rock, with Williams’ bellowing voice being buried by noise; “Gimme a Knife” is loud and brash, but its lyrics, such as “I loved you, Jesus/ You raped the world/ I feel defeated/ Guess I’ll go surf,” are even more bizarre.
Nevertheless, Afraid of Heights is Wavves at their most enhanced sound and their most elaborate thematically. The album continues to give more open background, with songs such as “Cop,” an honest albeit odd love song about a gay protagonist killing a policeman; “Hippies is Punks,” a noise-pop headbanger about misery and lovesickness; “I Can’t Dream,” the catchy and hauntingly dramatic album closer; “Paranoid,” an upbeat jam with the words “I don’t know” repeated several times to emphasize and match the song’s title; and “Dog,” another catchy rock ballad.
If you think Wavves or frontman Nathan Williams intend to influence sociopathy or nihilism in Afraid of Heights, that’s not what they are trying to do. With their aesthetic abilities and lyrical idiosyncrasy, Wavves have created an infectious headphones album to relate to, to feel sympathy and empathy for the band members, or just to feel free as an individual.
Suggested Tracks: “Sail to the Sun,” “Demon to Lean On,” “Dog, “Paranoid,” “I Can’t Dream,” “Hippies is Punks”