The primary point of appeal for a band such as Wavves could be boiled down to the extent to which they fiercely resist being pigeonholed. The Californian act’s earliest releases may very well have played towards the territory of lo-fi noise pop, but they nevertheless retained a sharp punk edge to their sound, at one point even employing two musicians formerly of the late punk legend Jay Reatard’s backing band, as well as drummer Zach Hill, most notably of iconic punk rap trio Death Grips. Despite working closely with Wavves in 2009, Hill never appeared on a record from the band as was initially promised, although their third album, King of the Beach, compiled re-worked versions of demos that frontman Nathan Williams wrote with the drummer. Given that Hill has had a foot in so many different groups of so many different styles over the years, it came as no surprise that King of the Beach significantly cranked up Wavves’ influences from genres such as punk, psychedelia and garage rock, whilst generally broadening their stylings to include a bevy of new sounds. It was at this point that Wavves’ elusiveness when it came to having their style pinpointed properly crystallised, with labels like indie rock, psychedelic pop and surf punk being tossed at them from every direction. Yet, it would seem that embracing any one of these tags would work against the overall aesthetic of the group, with their sound amounting to a messy, explosive mass of infectious indie rock refrains, bratty punk-tinged performances, surf rock riffage, psychedelic atmospheres and noisy production. Sometimes these ingredients would come together smoothly and, other times, they would violently butt heads, but this seems to be precisely the point of the sawtooth bite that comes with listening to a Wavves album, and the case is no different for their latest full-length studio release, You’re Welcome. In fact, based on the singles teased in promotion of this sixth record from the band, the more ambitious and creative production choices, as well as some particularly mangled song structures and sticky choruses, alluded to You’re Welcome being amongst Wavves’ most dynamic, diverse and destructive projects thus far. Indeed, ‘destructive’ is definitely an appropriate descriptor for the band’s newest album, but not necessarily by means of it being a kaleidoscopic eruption of nasty noises pulled from punk, psychedelia and surf rock, rather You’re Welcome, at times, can teeter between being jarring in the best way possible and jarring in a way that fails to translate the full scope of the group’s aspirations over the course of the tracklisting. Undoubtedly, however, given that the songs that stick the landing on the album gift the same riotous amusement of previous Wavves projects, the best moments of You’re Welcome could certainly be said to make for some fruitful forays into ever more abrasive territories for the band, but there are nevertheless some significant slumps in the tracklisting that, whether due to production misfires or simple songwriting shortfalls, prevent the record from being the experimental milestone that it could have been for Williams and his bandmates.
Whilst You’re Welcome certainly seems to portray Wavves in a point of transformation — with the band keeping one foot firmly planted in the sound that got them to where they are today, whilst the other treads warily onto a slightly more progressive path — that’s not to say that this transitory state works to the detriment of the record, or, at least, not in the way that one might assume. With the creative powers of Williams and co. being split between these two sides of the album, it’s only natural that certain cuts in the tracklisting will lean more towards the stylings of the group’s past output, whilst others push away from these sounds to a degree, but whether a song amounts to a familiar or forward-thinking endeavour for Wavves is by no means an indication of its quality. Hollowed Out, for example, does little to alter the band’s usual compositional blueprint, but is better for it, in that the cut compiles many of the sharpest and most striking characteristics of the Wavves projects of the past that were primed for buttering the listener up with a propulsive, chugging groove during the verse, before unleashing the full-on, auditory assault of their sticky and in-your-face choruses. Following a brief introduction that sees plucky keyboard chords and clacking percussion accompany a clear homage to the castrato-sounding barbershop vocal stylings of The Beach Boys, the verse plays out in typical Wavves fashion, with a firm bass groove bolstering the straight and rigid drum pattern, whilst interpolations of bright, fuzzed-out chords are woven between quivering incidentals of noodling guitar. The succeeding outbreak of snappy garage rock guitars and a driving vocal melody from Williams acts as a false flag for the refrain, which makes the actual chorus all the more forceful, as a tug of war ensues between the simple bass line that accompanies Williams fluttering vocals and the upsurge of growling, earthshaking bass and swirling jangles of surf rock guitar. Although true to the tried-and-tasted formula of Wavves’ lo-fi surf punk that is perfectly suited for blaring out of an open garage, Hollowed Out is simply successful for the playing towards the band’s pre-established strengths. Then again, Wavves are not a group to routinely abide by the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra, rather much of You’re Welcome shows them to lean more towards the philosophy of, “if it ain’t broke, then break it and make something better from its leftover scraps.” Case in point, the opening track, Daisy, may very well be built with the surf rock chord progressions and squealing guitar leads of numerous other songs by the band, but Wavves decide to really splash out in terms of the inventive production quirks they utilise across the cut. From the devastatingly noisy mixing used on the snare drum during the fill that introduces each verse to the shivering effect used on Williams’ vocals when he turns down his usual punchiness and opts for a delivery with more legato, the group doesn’t shy away from taking risks in the production on Daisy, and they all undoubtedly pay off, making for one of the most dynamic songs in the tracklisting. This is especially true given that this opening cut is also one of the most thoroughly-written pieces on the album, with the band displaying an impressive application of tension and release, particularly during the chorus, which is made to sound oddly triumphant as the instrumentation and sugary backing vocals swell towards a sort of semi-climax that arrives just before the high of the hook plummets back down to the blunt attitude of the verse once again. No Shade makes some similarly bold decisions with regards to the production style, as heavily-reverbed cascades of mocking backing vocals play against the chopped and manipulated rhythm section at the beginning of the verse, which works as an amusingly jarring introduction for a song that ultimately devolves into the most propulsive and pummelling display of fuzzy, gut-punching garage punk across the entire record. With the title track also tinkering with blaring noise that plays against some of Williams’ signature, sticky hooks, You’re Welcome may only push the envelope ever so slightly for Wavves, but the band’s efforts are no less effective in challenging the listener with some exceptionally imaginative production kinks, whilst offering much of the same eclectic, incisive indie rock that has made the group so elusive over the past decade.
Yet, as the record runs on, whilst Wavves don’t let up on the gimmicks in the production or their stylistic choices from track-to-track, these experiments become more and more testing with no real pay-off. In fact, with some of these songs being jarring in the worst way possible, whilst the general trend of the latter half of the tracklisting witnesses the album descend into a complete mess of fragmented compositional ideas that are awkwardly pieced together, You’re Welcome could surely be said to be Wavves’ most inconsistent release to date. Oddly enough, however, this doesn’t arise from their decision to push the boat out whilst nevertheless appealing to the stylistic principles that have long since encapsulated their artistry, as many of the songs over the course of the record that seem to bridge the gap between where the band was previously and where they seemingly want to be in the future are rather well-worked as to maximise the dynamism of such cuts. Instead, this sense of inconsistency seems to emerge from the extent to which numerous songs run like experiments with no safety measures put in place in case things go wrong. Although aforementioned tracks such as Daisy and No Shade work to advance Wavves’ sound through creative production choices and other experiments, they nonetheless didn’t retire the infectious choruses, punchy performances and potent melodic tones that typically run wild throughout their work, which is not so much the case with cuts that appear later in the tracklisting. As an example, the almost sinisterly gleeful organ melodies of Come to the Valley play against the same noisy production of a song like Daisy, with the result being a song that doesn’t know whether it wants to be a summery ballpark tune or the soundtrack to a circus-themed horror flick. The entire track reads almost like some sort of failed, tongue-in-cheek joke by Williams, but if this is the case, then that most definitely doesn’t justify the length of the song, nor does the incessant repetition of its refrain and the overall lack of melodies that will stick with the listener for any other reason than to haunt their sadistic, psycho killer nightmares. Equally frustrating are the songs that, from a compositional or stylistic perspective, offer nothing new for Wavves and simply show the group treading water in this regard, with the exception of some gimmicky instrumental choices that seem to exist solely for the reason of distracting from the lack of interesting ideas in the songwriting. Animal, for instance, is a plain and simple display of Wavves painting by numbers, which the band seemingly attempts to make up for with quirky choices of timbre that stick out like a sore thumb as a result. Whether it be the clunky glockenspiel that juts out horribly during the introduction, the swirling surge of off-key synth noise, or the use of brittle mixing on the drums, each of these quirks seems like a superficial attempt to cover up the song’s deficiency in striking melodies or well-worked compositional concepts, which wouldn’t have been all that bad of an idea if these stunts weren’t executed so poorly. Similarly, the over-reliance on squelching or searing synth tones across Under — with Williams seemingly attempting to mimic Animal Collective, especially given the vocal harmonies across the cut — makes for an especially grating and ungainly transition between the verse and the chorus, with the production seemingly not accounting for the extent to which the synth additions would clutter up the mix. As frustrating as these songs can be, when compared to tracks like Stupid in Love and Exercise that are disappointingly run-of-the-mill for Wavves once again, but without the shallow gimmicks, cuts such as Animal and Under could be said to at least attempt something inventive, even if they ultimately come across as facile attempts at covering up the tepid compositional chops on display.
Across You’re Welcome, there is quite a severe split between the best and worst songs in the tracklisting, making for a release that’s inconsistent both in quality and in the experimental pursuits of the group. Undoubtedly, when their experimental endeavours are effective, they make for some genuinely forward-thinking concepts that, if refined and expanded upon in a full-length format, could make for an interesting next step in the band’s maturation process. Unfortunately, however, these tracks are clearly in the minority, with the record, as a whole, being bogged down by shortsighted and surface-level quirks that offer little more than a sonic distraction from the issues of weak songwriting and a lack of strong melodies that appear on numerous cuts in the tracklisting. All too quickly do the salient issues across You’re Welcome snowball as the record hurtles onwards, whilst Wavves’ experiments begin to spiral out of control with few infectious hooks or sticky riffs to save them. Although the overall ambition of the album can be appreciated in terms of the artistic aspirations to which it alludes for Williams et al., You’re Welcome is thoroughly capricious in its execution, making for a somewhat half-baked endeavour into more explorative sounds.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6/10