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Album Review
Afraid Of Heights

Afraid Of Heights
by Wavves

Sub Pop

Review Date
Mom + Pop
Reviewed by
Vincent Michaelsen

The video for 2010’s ‘King of the Beach’ showed Wavves’ Nathan Williams and Stephen Pope playing video games, printing money and smoking gold-flaked joints - generally having a sweet time. It pretty much summed up impressions of the band and their three albums thus far. More so, it reflected something of a high-tide mark for a whole scene in which Wavves played a large part - lo-fi, garage revivalists who knew how to have fun in a time of depressed job markets. More recently, Williams has spoken about the realities of growing up - paying a mortgage, financing his work, and losing his ego in the process. Not surprisingly, Afraid Of Heights comes off as more of a fully-fledged piece of work. And while there’s still a strong sense of slacker rebellion on the album, one can’t help but feel that it closes the book on a long summer of hazy indie nostalgia.

Partly why I say that is because sonically, Afraid Of Heightsreally isn’t that hazy at all. Working for a year self-financed, Wavves enlisted pop producer John Hill to create an album that’s cut down to its raw 90s influences while remaining refreshingly clear. ‘Sail To The Sun’, the album’s sprightly opener, begins with the merry chiming of bells before lunging into a punchy bass line and Williams’ familiar sneer of “I don’t waannna...”. It’s more along the lines of classic pop punk than anything the band has released previously, and an angle this album works surprisingly well. ‘Demon To Lean On’ and ‘Lunge Forward’ follow on very much in this vein, the former being one of the record’s big hits with an exploding, anthemic chorus. Next up, ‘Dog’ is perhaps the secret gem of the album – subtle, well constructed and with a complexity (cello and all) that’s new to Wavves.

In the title track ‘Afraid Of Heights’, Wavves unabashedly channels mainstream influences of Nirvana and Weezer into one of the band’s best and most controlled tracks to date. Williams has never been one to try hide the influence of his writing - recently quoted by SPIN as having listened to Weezer’s Blue Album daily whilst recording. As such, hearing lines like “Woke up, found Jesus” (a big nod towards the Blue Album’s ‘Say It Ain’t So’) enriches the context of the album rather than tainting it with the stigma of lazy writing. ‘Afraid Of Heights’ ends with uneasy outro of dreamlike instruments and Williams’ scattered voice fading out like a dying battery saying “Got nothing to lose, when it comes to being high”. It’s an odd sort of interlude midway through the album that would make natural sense were this a 6 song EP (and a great one at that), but instead it leaves the second half of the album feeling very much like a collection of B-sides. Though, of course the second half does feature some standout tracks like the fast-paced ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Gimme A Knife’, and then the final drifting out of ‘I Can’t Dream’ which reflects a darker side to Williams’ sometimes satirical self-disgust.

Williams has talked about the dominant themes of depression, anxiety and paranoia on Afraid Of Heights, which are also clearly reflected in the name itself. These feelings are certainly more present and more accurately expressed on this record, but this is not new ground for Wavves either. If there’s one talking point for the album, for me it’s the way Wavves has mostly broken out of the standardised indie aesthetic of their past work to create a purely honest sounding record.


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