by Calley Nelson
On the album cover of Wavves’ fifth album, V, a man hides his face behind his cape as he mourns over three spilt goblets of wine. In tarot, the five of cups signifies difficulty in loss. It’s the card of self-pity, urging the interpreter to look at the bridge over troubled water and at the two full cups behind him. The card serves as the thematic figurehead for the album as it flirts constantly between the cusp of an emotional breakdown and a “dude, it’s fine” credence. The band continues to extrapolate on the anxiety and fear laced through their previous releases a la “Nine is God” and “Afraid of Heights”, but V as a whole is even more insular. It’s just lead singer Nathan Williams and his anxiety here, and he’s not shy about sharing.
This summer, after releasing No Life for Me, a solid collaboration with Cleveland punk jam-band Cloud Nothings, Williams, a beacon of ambition, sought to release “Way Too Much”, a single off of the new album, on SoundCloud — without Warner Brothers’ okay. In a largely one-sided Twitter fight, Williams slammed the major label, threatening to leak the entire album if they didn’t let him share the single with his fans:
“Its nauseating tbh i spend 365 days a year in a studio making songs and ppl at warner still think they are gonna call the shots on my art.”
“Listen to the music. do you like the music? we worked hard on it. what did warner do? they heard it once and tried to make edits. I said no.”
“You don’t scare me. Im not scared of getting dropped or sued by u so what do u have? @wbr”
Although Warner didn’t reply publicly, they did respond, and William’s grumbling resulted in a win. “Way Too Much” stayed online and the album dropped on October 2nd as planned.
The album itself, like Wavves’ previous work, incorporates noise music but now more subtly than ever, smoothed-over with Blink-182 chord progressions and studio additives like tambourine. Yet there’s still a brattiness in Williams that evokes a Tom Delonge that wasn’t lost to aliens and Angels and Airwaves. Williams isn’t attempting to be taken seriously here, and he isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel — but somehow he produces an album that is both egotistical and self-conscious at the same time, ramming through the album shouting hook after hook until it feels like all the cups on the cover are knocked over. In fact, there’s a youthful pessimism here that’s so apt for Williams’ generation that it makes your face and knees sting because you know, like Williams, you probably have to pick yourself up after falling out of your job, out of confidence, out of love. You have to tell yourself everything is okay even though it isn’t and with some bad luck, like the rainy car crash in “All The Same”, it’s even more of a struggle to be optimistic. Every song on the album is a fight song for violently anxious, self-consumed 20-somethings who are feeling pretty down-and-out about pretty much everything.
“Way Too Much” is lyrically existentialist as Williams is “always thinking too much.” Many of the songs here are about sensory overload, seeking refuge from reality and the opinions of others; as a whole, V reads like a Sartre novel. It’s a modern day existentialist rock opera where the main character realizes that nothing will ever be the same as it was the day before. Yet, despite the dark subject matter, Wavves is bouncier, more melodic and captivating than ever before. Running just slightly over 30 minutes, the album packs a poppy punch. Yet though its tangibly more up-tempo than previous LPs, it’s by no means more upbeat.
At times, V is gruesome and assaulting, reminiscent of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., but those moments don’t last long, and even the lyrics are direct but vague. There is no lingering on this record, each song clocking in under the four-minute mark. It’s enough to make one wonder about how much of a say Warner Bros at least tried to have on the finished product, and it will be interesting to see if Wavves decides to stick it out with the major after V. No wonder the album is a void of disillusionment. Can you imagine recording tapes off an old computer in your parent’s house at twenty-one just-for-kicks between skateboarding and blogging and wallowing in young adulthood, only to suddenly find yourself famous (and notorious), then just a few years later, signing to Fat Possum and then Warner Bros? It’s a sobering thought for an album full of them.