King of the Beach
2010 Fat Possum (US)/Bella Union (UK)
For this, the fourth “From the Library” column, I chose to listen to an album by a band I know absolutely nothing about. I think I had seen the name “Wavves” on Pitchfork once or twice, but I can’t recall whether those mentions were positive or negative. I’ve heard some of my more musically oriented friends reference Wavves with dismissive indifference, but I’m generally not one to think something is good or bad based solely on what others say. The Andover, Massachusetts library had a copy of the band’s third studio record, King of the Beach, and I, overcome with mild interest, decided to check it out.
Wavves, at least on King of the Beach, often sound like a little-known alt-rock relic from 1992. Their music calls to mind a sun-baked skate park adjacent to the beach. Even the cover looks like a goofy, fond remembrance of late 80s/early 90s fashion sensibilities, with a neon font and alternating loud colors providing the backdrop. You can visualize the band draped in Vuarnet and Ocean Pacific duds as they rip through each track.
If you can see behind the surf rock/skate punk nostalgia, though, you’ll find some pretty lethal hooks. Nowhere is this more evident than the opening title track, with its juxtaposition of heavy guitar parts and loose, jangly garage pop. The first half of King of the Beach is energetic and fun, and its appropriate hang loose vibe is endearing and ingratiating. The band floats through the beginning of the record with a seamless, easygoing, rocking vibrancy. They wear their influences on their sleeve: “Take on the World” vaguely invokes Nirvana in its progressions, the Pixies in its melodies.
King of the Beach takes a more electronic tone during its second half, and though this provides some high points, the record suffers for it. The effects on some of the tracks, like the vocal reverb on “Mickey Mouse”, stand in stark comparison to the sharpness of the record’s first side, and the lack of imagination is evident. The electronic elements had provided a nice touch, but they eventually drown the record’s energy in drones and bass.
Wavves have here released an album that’s been done a thousand times, save their psychedelic and electronic touches that differentiate it from the slacker rock masses. King of the Beach generally rocks, but when it doesn’t, it’s at least interesting, which makes it more valuable than an instantly dismissible alt-rock redux. Wavves’ marriage of skate/garage pop and electro-pop is occasionally a rocky one, but it’s an overall success.