The hand-wringing of critics at hipster music blogs over Wavves’ frontman Nathan Williams’ commitment to punk and their wish for him to deliver something artistically profound is one of my peccadilloes. It’s fun to watch them tie themselves in knots debating Williams’ punk credibility and their desire for him to mature.
Sure, Williams has clearly struggled with whether he should take advantage of opportunities and abandon his lo-fi sound for alt-radio-pleasing hits. He’s pushed toward maturity on Afraid of Heights and flirted with the middle ground on V. But now, on Wavves’ latest release, Williams is free from a contract with Warner Bros. and sounds ready to have fun again–if not also flip the bird to critics and expectations. Isn’t that where punk rock is supposed to come from?
V felt in many ways like an obligatory breakup album delivered as dour straightforward punk. You’re Welcome sounds simply like Williams having fun being at the helm of a punk band. Drum machines and off-kilter samples make the tracks breathe and thump. “Daisy” opens the album with Williams thumbing his nose at his critics “They’re shooting at me/grinning through the teeth/not hitting a thing/despite what it means/ I’m not worrying.”
“You’re Welcome” stomps forward as Williams coyly sings, “You don’t gotta mention it. You’re welcome.”
“No Shade” combines drum machines, start-and-stop live drums and quirky samples to deliver a blazing punk number that pauses for WIlliams to coo, “If my baby don’t come/neither will the sun/I’m by the pool drinking lemonade/no shade.”
It’s on “Million Enemies” that Williams takes a shot at the big time. His Kurt-Cobain-on-vacation croon introduces a throbbing bass line and dancey drums. “I’ve got enemies/a million enemies living in the streets tonight/I’ve got enemies/a million enemies/but baby I’m feeling fine,” he sings like a bottle of Xanax with vocal chords. The song comes off as the kind of quirky hits delivered by MGMT on Oracular Spectacular or on Spoon’s They Want my Soul.
Perhaps the most stunning number on the album is “Hollowed Out,” where Williams puts on a sweet British accent: “I feel you standing there hollowed out/gazing into the sunshine all around/ light passes by” he sings, doing his best Bowie impression before an overwhelming bass line hits and his normal voice returns, sober and ominous, singing “Hollowed out.” It sounds like something off Jay Reatard’s final album, Watch Me Fall.
Williams experiments with beach pop on “Come to the Valley;” it’s the kind of jingle that Jack White would be praised for but Williams will take shit for. The album smashes together influences from doo-wop, hardcore, psychedelia and elsewhere, but what you get in the end is what you’d expect: hook-laden, sugar-coated, beach punk tunes, delivered with confidence.