Nathan Williams’ story has often been told as a gloomy one, although it seems to be shiny in every detail. Coming out of nowhere with his home-made tapes in 2008, he quickly entered the biggest stages without even trying to. The guy behind WAVVES – only 22 years old at that time – became the poster-boy of fucked-up – literally over night. With all it’s consequences. Anyone could watch him stumble and fall over his rampant use of drugs and booze, that turned out to be nothing but a tool, concealing his lack of self-esteem. Something Williams later admitted himself, as he openly apologized for being the freaked-out kid he was at that time. Now, with his third full-length Afraid Of Heights, it is time to keep on filling the pages the hype once left blank. And, as most attentive listeners realized from his very first recordings, this guy obviously is into pop music – well, at least the grumpy side of it.
WAVVES-records never did too well in hiding their affinity for hooks, but with their third full-length, Williams and his crew intended to make it sound even more professional. A goal they’d rather avoided in their early days but acutally already began to establish with their latest attempt from 2010: King of The Beach. Back then, we heard WAVVES doing a great job in improving their skills without betraying their trademarks. Nowadays, the ongoing, conscious development to a more clean sounding production leads to a crucial point in the career of this undoubtedly talented songwriter.
Opener Sail To The Sun and the following Demons To Lean On already hit us in advance of this release and especially the last, with it’s catchy No Future-attitude, came to stay. A brilliant and shackling hymn, fueled by boredom and fear. It’s impact enhanced through the dystopian, Lord Of The Flies-like video. So, yes, there are the positive examples which clearly benefit from the new broadband-WAVVES-sound. But this is where the ambiguity comes in: at it’s best, the polished noise-pop-approach brings about some weird but fine WEEZER-meets-90s-GREEN DAY-moments. Yet, at it’s weakest, all we get is replacable pop punk, whining about Williams personal unstableness, which lacks most of it’s original sincerity.
It’s definitely silly to demand an artist to stay true to his wasted state of mind when it did have the destroying and dangerous effects exemplified in Williams’ case. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that there is only little sense in making lo-fi sound big. In the end, it’s all a question of how far you would believe him, as he claims: “I’ll always be on my own/ fucked and alone.”. Yes, he remains to be the nihilistic, messy, no-fi-lyricist (“No hope and no future/ we’ll die the same losers”). But now, he’s also on his best way to become the professional musician I’m not sure I ever wanted him to be. Aimlessness, put to music – that is how WAVVES originally gathered their well deserved attention. It’s a thin line on which Afraid Of Heights now counterbalances this attitude with it’s cheerfulness. On the other hand, this is maybe by far the most appropriate expression of the living contradiction named Nathan Williams.