By taking the crisp oceanside song structures of The Beach Boys and melding them with the unsettled, nervous energy of the Ramones, San Diego-based trio Wavves has a talent for mixing seemingly unconnected elements of lo-fi noise and surf rock to arrive at a distinct sound. Largely a front for talented, but troubled singer/guitarist Nathan Williams, the groups third full-length release, King of the Beach – released July 13 – presents an evolving direction for the young group.
The lead-off and title track delivers exactly what a tune bearing that name should: clean, breezy and fun. Williams has dialed-up his best early-era Brian Wilson songsmithing, with a jangly, 3-chord progression fueling the number like a surfboard aloft a wave. And yet, his nasally sneer recalls no wispy Beach Brothers harmonies, but instead a Joey Ramone wail. It's a great opening cut and its entirely appropriate in its 2:38 run time. No surfing tune should ever take longer.
A collection of playful and spirited tracks in a similar vein follows, with titles including "Super Soaker," Baseball Cards" and "Linus Spacehead," evoking a carefree approach befitting of its face-paced style. These offerings are no more complex than Williams' clanging guitar work and the rhythm section of bassist Stephen Pope and drummer Billy Hayes just plowing ahead with fury. Here, the trio stakes out ground between recent power-punk chargers like Titus Andronicus and Tokyo Police Club and the more simplified, four-track sound of the Apples in Stereo.
And yet, while Wavves do great work at honing their power-punk bona fides, they also add a secondary area of direction through numbers like "When Will You Come," "Take On the World" and "Convertible Balloon" more informed by more adventurous contemporaries like Passion Pit and Vampire Weekend. In fact, the latter of this group, "Convertible Balloon," takes on much of the flavor being pioneered by Buffalo's Mike Angelakos and his comrades in Passion Pit, with Williams nearly replicating Angelakos' signiture falsetto. While Angelakos certainly has the groove down better, the sonic differences between the album's opening number and this looser track demonstrate the group's versatility, one they'll hopefully exploit with more rigor on forthcoming projects.
To that end, Wavves offers a glimpse of where they might be heading in "Green Eyes," a cut that seems to be the type of offering that might be presented by Colin Meloy should he ever front a punk band. Sure, there's no mistaking the song for "Sixteen Military Wives" or "We Both Go Down Together," but Williams' phrasing and turns in songwriting are very much within the same territory marked by the Decemberists' frontman. It's a well-constructed piece of pop music and should encourage Williams and his mates to attempt similar efforts in the future.
Come for: "King of the Beach"
Stay for: "Convertible Balloon"
You'll be surprised by: "Green Eyes"
P.S. - Wavves will be appearing at the Rock & Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C. on September, 27th.