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Review: Wavves Wear Their Snot, Not Their Hearts, on Their Sleevves With ‘V’

Wavves - 2013 Budweiser Made in America Fesitval - Day 2
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 01: Nathan Williams of Wavves performs during the 2013 Budweiser Made In America Festival at Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 1, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: October 02, 2015
Label: Warner Bros. / Ghost Ramp

“Have I lived too long?” sings Nathan Williams at the outset of V, wondering like so many guitar-abusing snots before him if the oncoming 3-0 is really necessary. His probably-not-related kindred spirit Hayley Williams once surmised that 22 is “like, the worst idea that I have ever had,” and Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller once named a song “Nineteen” because it’s “not the age of reason.” Let’s not forget Art Brut’s Eddie Argos, who summed up his 28th year in a manchild anthem called “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake.” Williams doesn’t mention being 29 outright, because declaring “29 is the new 19” would be syntactically f–ked. But he’s either worried about his age, or about what he’s doing at his age. “It gets better,” he declares on “Pony,” over a hopeful chorus of chords nicked from — this is appropriate — Meat Puppets’ “I Can’t Be Counted On at All.” But Wavves hero Kurt Cobain died at 27, and you can tell Williams is wondering if there’s a cutoff point for the whole optimism thing.

Thin, annoyingly catchy, and high-concept, 2010’s King of the Beach was the album this guy was supposed to make before getting wiped out. The album he was not supposed to make is V, which is layered, unfashionably polished, and serves no purpose other than to be the best album yet by a guy so stubbornly determined to stop sucking that he’s kept at it for five albums and counting. Its uniformity over 31 minutes will drive one back to 2009’s melted-in-a-microwave Wavvves just for some different sonics, until you remember how little of that album’s craft held up beneath the molten disguise. Earlier this year, Williams’ surprise collaboration with Cloud Nothings, No Life for Me, was briefly exciting, as Wavves albums tend to be, until you realized you couldn’t tell whether he and Dylan Baldi were burying potential hooks under unsculpted noise.

So we’ll take the clear-as-a-bell V, whose bulls–t-free arena-punk is rooted in Wavves’ secret breakthrough, 2011’s Life Sux EP — specifically in “Nodding Off” and Bethany Cosentino’s sorely needed harmonies. Unlike his more experimental, blown-out beginnings, Williams now only writes songs that feature words, which tend toward the nihilistic (“I lost my job today but it’s all the same”), the curmudgeonly (“Every morning / Toxic waste / Everything sucks / If you don’t get your way”), and the dead-inside (“There’s no reason you and I are friends”). It’s both a little wearing and a little impressive; Blink-182 felt stifled by the same territory after just two albums in the limelight. Williams’ previous full-length with Wavves, 2013’s Afraid of Heights, was his most varied — both musically (Jenny Lewis on the title tune!) and lyrically (“I love you Jesus / You raped the world,” which Morrissey would not have followed with “Let’s all go surf”) — but slower than V.

Somehow Williams is at his most charged-up and urgent when he’s at his bleakest, though you’d be hard-pressed to remember song titles here, with only a strangled-cat synth on “Flamezesz” (matched with a typical Wavves refrain of “wasting all your ti-i-ime”) to break up from guitar-bass-drum. One of the best songs is cruelly dubbed “All the Same”; self-deprecation takes on new meaning with this guy. Hardly fronting the only 2015 band with a superfluous “v” who could use some curveballs, don’t underrate his toxic waste just because the old man says it sucks.