Recent articles in music publications have decried the state of indie rock, declaring that is has gone “soft” and become too “wimpy.” While these sentiments may be extreme, it’s true that indie has trended less toward the rock ‘n’ roll of Pavement or the White Stripes and more toward the ornate eccentricities of Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear.
If you agree that current indie rock has lost its edge, look no further than Wavves and their new release, Afraid of Heights. It’s snotty and abrasive, but it’s also equal parts catchy and endearing.
Wavves entered the scene with a hazy, dirty, lo-fi sound. But on Afraid of Heights, frontman Nathan Williams decided to make full use of the studio. The sound is clean and well-produced, but — luckily for us — it’s no less punchy, loud or potent.
Afraid of Heights gives us all the grungy guitar riffs and self-loathing lyrics of Nirvana but with the pop songwriting sensibilities of Weezer. “Sail to the Sun” hearkens back to Wavves’ 2010 single “King of the Beach” with its relentlessly fast guitar and anthemic melody. It’s the perfect adrenaline-pumping album opener. Other highlights include “Demon to Lean On,” with its guitar sound lifted from Nirvana’s “Lithium,” and “Dog,” with its slinky bass riff and subtle xylophone accompaniment. Lyrically, Williams wallows in despair and self-hate — on “Beat Me Up,” he tells a girl, “I just want to spend some time with you” before retreating and suggesting, “Or, you can beat me up.”
Unfortunately, Afraid of Heights becomes a bit repetitive. As we pass the halfway point of the album, the songs begin to drag as they offer us recycled ideas. But then it gets back on track with the last two songs — the hard-charging “Gimme a Knife” and the acoustic, Beck-like “I Can’t Dream.”
Afraid of Heights is more than worth your time — the musical high points are incredibly high, and the emotional low points are incredibly low. Kurt Cobain would be very proud.