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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    On ‘Afraid of Heights,’ Wavves plays it safe


    It may be five years since Wavves mastermind Nathan Williams first took the blogosphere by storm, but with Afraid of Heights, Williams shows that he hasn’t lost a shred of the bratty charm that made him a star.

    Although bit long for Williams’ slacker pop-punk style, “Demon to Lean On” proves to be the archetypal track for Afraid of Heights, with its big riffs, slightly tiresome verses and enormous choruses. Yet where songs like “Paranoid” seem content to ride along on the same self-effacing vibe Williams has been cultivating since his alcohol-fueled meltdown in 2009, “Demon to Lean On” finds Williams more plaintive than ever before.

    The riff may still reek of late-1990s Weezer, but the way Williams sings lets on that perhaps the 26-year-old has seen a bit more of life’s darker side since Wavves’ last outing. The jarring contrast between the clear maturation of “Demon to Lean On” and something like “Lunge Forward,” a more typical song for Williams, is ultimately what makes Afraid of Heights more frustrating than revelatory.

    While songs like “Lunge Forward,” with its chorus of “none of you will ever understand me,” can be fun breaks in the context of a full-length record, there just end up being too many tracks that scratch Williams’ Green Day-inspired itch.

    After every great moment, like the progressive, chiming guitars of opener “Sail to the Sun,” Williams somehow manages to deflate the song with repetitive chord sequences and melodies that go nowhere.

    Even elements that feel like they should work given Williams’ slacker cred, such as “Sail to the Sun”’s rote affirmation that “we’ll all die, that’s just the way we live,” come off as safe and scripted. The tracks on Afraid of Heights ultimately drag far more than they should given Williams’ exceptional track record.

    But there’s no denying that even the forgettable songs sound good, thanks to veteran producer John Hill, whose experience with artists like Shakira and Christina Aguilera gives Afraid of Heights a pop sheen that’s noticeable but never overwhelming.

    Afraid of Heights’ best moments come when Williams seems game to experiment with his tried-and-true formula. The stunning title track combines a gripping melody and some of Williams’ best-ever lyrics (“Woke up and found Jesus / I think I must be drunk … you drain me / it’s dripping everywhere / I’m ugly”) to yield a song out of the ordinary for Waaves that nonetheless matches any of their greatest achievements.

    Elsewhere the acoustic shuffle of “Cop” plays as a lost song from the ‘60s, balancing Williams’ pop sensibility with a sense of beauty.

    With a band as immediate and compelling as Wavves, it’s rare to feel like a song just plain doesn’t work. Even the most conventional Williams song is fast and dirty enough not to lose any fans. Yet Afraid of Heights rings of the lost opportunity for Williams to gear up and do something new, especially when each Wavves release preceding Heights has so triumphantly improved on the one before.

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