Usually, public meltdowns coupled with a fair share of personal woes breed self-destruction and a trip or two to rehab. Fortunately for Wavves, this combination creates Afraid of Heights: an album filled with (sometimes unsettling) honesty and Wavves’s most confident sound to date.
Afraid of Heights
Mom + Pop
At times during the past few years, it seemed hard to really understand what Wavves was all about, mostly because the group itself had no idea. The attitude of previous albums Wavvves and King of the Beach was careless yet extremely confident for a 20-something-year-old guy who lived with his parents. Littered with excess noise and an apathetic attitude, this earlier mentality embodied that of a generation. Who needs a job? We’re young! We can go to beach and skateboard and smoke weed — all at the same time!
Then comes the inevitable bummer. As Wavves’s mastermind/frontman, Nathan Williams, told SPIN, “In general, the realness of life starts to hit you later on. That’s more prominent on this record.”
Most of those who have listened to Wavves since the band’s inception in 2008 are most likely beginning to feel the same “realness of life,” which makes Afraid of Heights resonate that much more. The lyrics circle around topics of paranoia, depression and anxiety, and Williams even labels the narration as a whole as “schizophrenic.”
OK, so maybe the average, maturing 20-something wouldn’t identify his feelings of burgeoning adulthood and real-life problems as “schizophrenic,” but it’s probably a fair statement to say that any member of generation Y and beyond can relate on a certain level.
While the heavy lyrics of the album may result in mild shock for listeners, for the most part, it holds onto the surf rock sound expected from Wavves. “Sail to the Sun” glistens and shimmers before transitioning into a bassline which controls the sound, after which Williams cries, “I don’t wanna / Get left behind.” The song has more control than the pure “noise rock” from past albums but is still aggressive and catchy even while ending with the repetition of Williams singing, “in a grave, in a grave, in a grave.”
With song titles like “Beat Me Up,” “Everything is My Fault” and “Paranoid,” the catchiness of the tracks come as a surprise but also a godsend. Tracks filled with sing-along-style choruses and upbeat tempos keep listeners from fully descending into deep pits of despair as Williams wails lyrics like “Holding a gun to my head / So send me an angel” on “Demon to Lean On.”
Wavves also brings in indie-rock goddess/former Beverly Hills girl scout (if you don’t remember “Troop Beverly Hills,” what are we even doing right now?) Jenny Lewis for the title track. Her contribution isn’t obtrusive — it’s helpful with maintaining the catchiness of the album.
With all of the turmoil and distress captured in the lyricism throughout Afraid of Heights, it’s probably safe to say that Wavves is growing up. Williams’s brutal honesty and more controlled sound is refreshing but also still notably Wavves. Growing up does suck, Nathan, but we’re pretty sure you’re doing it right.