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King of the Beach
Fat Possum
Format: CD / LP / MP3
Release Date: August 3, 2010
By Nick Dean January 10, 2011

Nathan Williams is Wavves. And depending on what you know about Williams and/or Wavves, that sentence can be taken two different ways. For listeners just discovering the scrappy noise-pop band, it’s educational – an alert to the fact that Wavves is essentially just one person. For most everyone else though, it’s a redundantly-obvious statement. Of course, Nathan Williams is Wavves. He and his band make blog headlines all the time with one name often standing in for the other.

Wavves is Nathan Williams, so much so the music can sometimes suffer. Even for as much as I enjoy the bulk of his newest release, King of the Beach, it’s sometimes hard to separate the songs from the easy-going, pot-smoking target that Williams has become in the media.

In the two years since releasing his self-titled debut (Fuck It Tapes/Woodsist), Williams accumulated a lifetime’s worth of praise, derision, and drama. A quick read of the Wavves Wikipedia page provides all the details – the Pitchfork hype, the onstage breakdowns, the alcoholism, the band break-up, and now, the redemption album.

What’s interesting is that for as much as King of the Beach is going to expand the band’s fan base, it really isn’t a great album. Of its 12 tracks, there are a few real rockers, a pair of ethereal jams, a throwaway take or two, and some other songs that just won’t see too much play.

At first listen, it doesn’t even matter that Williams and crew (now former members of Jay Reatard’s band) have scaled back the noise. That’s what attracted me and likely many others to the band’s debut and its 2009 follow-up, Wavvves (Fat Possum). For all the forward momentum the album begins with, the second half of King of the Beach just meanders.

From the opening title track through the first few songs, King of the Beach seems like it’s going to be as upbeat and enjoyable a listen as Williams’ girlfriend’s album – Bethany Cosentino’s Crazy For You, which her band, Best Coast, released a week prior to this disc.

Both “Super Soaker” and “Idiot” expand the opening track’s beach theme, both musically and lyrically, with the fourth track, “When Will You Come,” serving as a sort of a breather. For as un-Wavves as the jangly doo-wop experiment sounds, it does serve as a nice respite; a little break before we’re back into the pop-punk of “Post Acid.”

If King of the Beach had ended with “Take on the World,” the album’s sixth track, Williams would have had a hell of an EP. The songs are catchier than anything Wavves has put out before, due largely to slick production and Williams’ decision to scale back the noise.

Of those first six songs, all are under three-minutes long. Of the second six songs, all but one are over three-minutes long – which, in and of itself, doesn’t really mean anything. But, along with the switch in song lengths, the second half of the album brings another slow, echo-laden experiment as well as the track “Convertible Balloon,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese. However, this is not Ween’s Chocolate and Cheese, making the track something of an oddity.

Were there more songs like “Idiot,” “Post Acid,” and “Take on the World,” the album might actually live up to its boast about being king. Williams, however, is probably too neurotic for that to happen, which is part of the band’s odd charm.

I mentioned earlier that it’s hard to separate Williams from his songs when listening to the Wavves’ music. Somehow, that’s positively affected my listening experience of King of the Beach. Wavves wouldn’t be the same without all the cynical snark and self-deprecation. If the lyrics were a match for the upbeat bounce and bubblegum harmonies, King of the Beach would be a much different listen. Probably a worse one. Though not a great album, there are some solid songs here.

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