Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wavves - King of the Beach

Release Date: August 3, 2010

★★★★★ Tracks:

Super Soaker


Convertible Balloon

Green Eyes

Anyone who follows Wavves knows about Nathan William’s meltdown at the Barcelona’s Primavera festival, culminating in an early return to the states and Nathan’s drummer leaving the band indefinitely. Nathan later admitted to being under the influence of a heavy-duty cocktail: xanax, valium, xtc, and some drinking. That’ll do just about anybody in. He said afterwards he has a bit of a substance abuse problem (ya think?), but anyone following Wavves on twitter knows Nathan still likes to party. And that’s alright by me, because weed is an integral piece of King of the Beach -- a perfectly blended cocktail of surf rock, marijuana, Nirvana-influenced power chords, and a touch of electronica. It makes for the perfect record to close out the last half of the summer.

You might think the break-up of the old Wavves would hurt their sound, but Nathan Williams made two major changes which markedly improve upon his last attempt. The first is recruiting the rhythm section of Jay Reatard’s band (Stephen Pope and Billy Hayes), both of whom tighten up the sound Nathan has been developing over the years. The second (and most important) is going to an actual studio to record, as opposed to self producing it in his bedroom. The superior quality gives the guitar that crunchy 90’s alternative sound Wavves so endears, while also allowing him to add some touches of electronica to break up the sound of the record.

“King of the Beach” opens and sets up the sound for most the record, relying on a heavy dosage of power chords and quick tempo. Williams acknowledges his TMZ music-scene critics in “Idiot,” which, along with the Miami-bass pounding “Green Eyes” dive in to Incesticide for musical inspiration. There are a few nods to Animal Collective in tracks like “Mickey Mouse” and “Baseball Cards.” And there’s a great walk through childhood on the nintendo-powered “Convertible Balloon,” one of the two songs written by Billy Hayes.

King of the Beach delivers an improvement over Wavvves in both quality of production and songwriting. There isn’t a weak track included here. The lyrics can be extremely childish, but Williams's songwriting is intentionally simplistic, perfectly accompanying the rock and pop Wavves produces so well . King of the Beach isn’t here to challenge your wits, it’s an album to tune on, tune in, and drop out to as you close out the last half of your hazy summer, and a definite album of the year contender.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wavves - Wavvves

Release Date: February 3, 2009

What the fuck is up with this recording? Is that a guitar or a collection of grinding gears? Are those backing vocals or a recording of a girl drowning?

Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, lo-fi made sense. Recording studios were expensive. Smaller bands and record labels were having difficulty putting records out on a tight budget. Enter the 4-track cassette recorder, which was already being used for demos for quite some time before artists like Daniel Johnston, Pavement, and Guided By Voices recorded entire albums using it. A creative and cheap way for an artist's music to reach the masses.

But this was 2009. Artists are putting out quality sounding songs and records with as little as a laptop and a USB mic. And Wavves, signed to a label like Fat Possum, could have afforded to up the studio production. This puts Wavvves in the category of “lo-fi for aesthetic purposes.” And this isn't just lo-fi, Wavvves just might be the lousiest quality of record I have ever heard. Challenging listeners with this shitty of a recording for artistic purposes is something I lack patience for -- it’s literally too much work to work my way past all the fuzz.

But if you can work your way past the fuzz you’ll hear a few good tracks. "Beach Demon," "So Bored," and "No Hope Kids" bring to mind a mix of Nirvana’s punk rock and pop, and Guided by Voices lo-fi sensibilities, but when I listen I can’t help but think what if. What if Fat Possum sent Nathan Williams to a cheap studio to re-record Wavvves how good it could have potentially been.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Waxwing - One For the Ride

Release Date: (Sometime in) 2000

★★★★★ Tracks:

One For the Ride


This is one of my first posts covering a record from my emo dark-ages, which began a couple of years before the turn of the millenium. A time when most art and science was lost on me (I was failing classes). I would only listen to the moodiest of rock’n’roll. It had to contain lamentable lyrics, focusing as frequently as possible on a long-distance relationship. It had to have some heartfelt and sincere gutteral screaming, and the music had to be unattractive to nearly everyone. You know, the good ol' days. When shit was real.

There’s a line from High Fidelity (An emo-kid favorite. Though not quite at the Donnie Darko-level.) where Cusack says “Do I listen to pop-music because I’m miserable? Or am I miserable because I listen to pop music?” It’s a great question really. But one easily answered when all you listen to is self-loathing “emotional rock.” The type of rock where singers complain about the most basic of everyday situations as to make them seem completely unbearable. It’s melodrama. And the truth is I was listening to so much melodrama I was making myself more miserable than I really was. With some common sense I eventually grew out of it.

But not all of it. As fashionable as it is to bash emo these days, there were a lot of excellent artists and ideas that developed out of the genre. Waxwing's One For the Ride is one of those bright spots. On this record they craft latin-influenced guitar rock with a punk-rock edge. It’s mostly minor-key, and a lot of it is depressing, but the six-string work is truly phenomenal. Some pure pop fans might be turned off by some of the unconventional song structures – these guys just had too many ideas to write your typical verse-chorus-verse tracks – but it lends to some very original songwriting.

The problem area with One For the Ride is the shoddy lyricism. Rocky Votolato (brother to guitarist Cody Votolato, also the guitarist for the Blood Brothers) has a great voice, but I don’t pretend to understand most of what he is singing about. With titles like “All My Prophets,” “Industry,” “There Will Be a Reckoning,” and “What the Hands Have Grown,” it seems Rocky is displeased with the direction society is moving towards. It could be an interesting subject if his words weren’t so cryptic. But in the end, the lyrics really only serve as an additional tonal layer to the music, which always comes first with Waxwing.

I am often so intrigued by experimental instrumentation I can completely ignore what’s being said by the vocalist, but I don’t think most can. And it’s this tacky lyricism which is displayed throughout most of One For the Ride that most likely held Waxwing back from more mainstream success. I admit I don't come back to this record often, but when I'm in the mood for some angular guitar-rock, and I'm feeling a little emo, One For the Ride will always be there to indulge me.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Weezer - Pinkerton

Release Date: September 24, 1996

★★★★★ Tracks:

Tired of Sex

Across the Sea

Pink Triangle

Anyone who knows a little bit about Weezer knows that Pinkerton was shit-canned by nearly every critic out there when it was first released. Over the years the critical base has caught up with the fan base and warmed up to the album, to the point where it’s now often mentioned as one of the essential records of the 90’s. The most humorous of shifts in opinion comes from Cuomo, who excluded nearly all the tracks from Weezer's live sets for quite a while. There’s a quote from him in the book, River’s Edge: the Weezer Story, regarding Pinkerton: “It's like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself.” However in an interview with Pitchfork a few years later, after opinon of the record had dramatically shifted, Cuomo says, “Pinkerton's great. It's super-deep, brave, and authentic. Listening to it, I can tell that I was really going for it when I wrote and recorded a lot of those songs.” His contrasting comments, combined with the complete crap he's put out since Pinkerton has me wondering if Rivers Cuomo actually knows what a good record is. But being in a band as popular as Weezer, Cuomo has participated in so many interviews he might simply echo what he feels the interviewer wants to hear. And Pitchfork was one of the first critics to champion Pinkerton a huge success.

Although Pinkerton seems to have confused many, Cuomo included, most can now agree it's a pretty damned good record. I'm not sure I would echo sentiments of it being an essential 90's record, and it might not match the quality of the Blue Album, but not many records can. Cuomo touches on some interesting and very unique subjects this time around, most likely gaining confidence in his writing capabilities while attending Harvard. “Tired of Sex” is sort of a tongue-in-cheek complaint regarding the monotony of his sexual conquests with groupies, while hoping he will someday find "real" love. “Across the Sea” touches on the good feeling of getting a fan letter, while also having conflicting fantasies about who (and how old) the potential girl might be who sent it. And quite possibly the strongest track, “Pink Triangle,” focuses on the heartbreak in finding out your girlfriend is a lesbian.

The immediate harsh criticism of Pinkerton unquestionably had an impact on Weezer’s confidence. They’ve never been the same since. Instead of continuing to push the artistic envelope, they're following in the same dead-end path paved by their three-chord power-pop heroes from "El Scorcho," who Cuomo's "cool" crush had never heard of, Green Day. Early-career highlights like “The Good Life” and “Buddy Holly” have been replaced by very poor quality singles such as “Hashpipe,” and quite possibly one of the worst songs of the past decade, “Beverly Hills." Cuomo no longer takes any chances, and Weezer has become a rock’n’roll punchline for how easily musicians can fall off a cliff. But that seems a bit unfair in all honesty. Not many can boast crafting two quality records, of which have been very influential on contemporary rock'n'roll. And most everyone can agree, at least in hindsight, that Weezer was a force to be reckoned with for most of the 1990's.