Amidst the plethora of genre tags assigned to Wavves, from surf rock to beach punk, something has become confused. Straying away from the purely rockish (and pretty enjoyable) sounds of Life Sux, Afraid of Heights tries to combine Nirvana-esque mimicry with pockets of sampling and acoustic interludes that leave the album feeling somewhat rough around the edges, although not in a totally unpleasant way.
‘Sail to the Sun’ and ‘Demon to Lean On’ offer heavy nineties rock influences with crashing guitars and catchy riffs, echoing Weezer and Blur, and are definitely two of the better tracks that follow the band’s previous patterns of work. Vocals are moany and chiming, and while catchy, do start to grate by the album’s close.
While there are definitely a couple of tracks worth listening to, richer, more experimental sounds are few and far between, leaving the album to fall somewhat short…
To Wavves’ credit, variance of sound is achieved through richer production (managed by John Hill, whose previous portfolio includes Rihanna and Santigold) and experimental chunks of sampling. There’s plenty to pique interest here – ‘Dog’ has a catchy intro with a great bass line, and feels almost hazy, with a dreamy, psychedelic tone that is present too in sections of ‘Afraid of Heights’, ‘Everything is My Fault’ and ‘I Can’t Dream’. Gritty electronic sampling and heavier bass at the start of ‘Mystic’ also contributes to a richer sounding Wavves. Yet these sections are few and far between, and tend to feel tacked on rather than part of a fluidly experimental record. Further work on the premises set definitely sets up the band interestingly for a follow-up, though.
Lyrics on Afraid of Heights unfortunately leave a fair bit to be desired. Once you’ve heard Nathan Williams say “everything is my fault” twenty times paired with “still I’ll be your dog” and “I don’t believe in anything”, you start to get the feeling he’s not a laugh a minute sort of guy. Williams himself commented that “the general theme of the record is depression and anxiety… every word is important, even the constant contradictions and lack of self-worth. That’s all a part of this record-questioning everything not because I’m curious, but because I’m paranoid.” Despite this intent, his words tend to feel overly angsty and at times almost annoying.
While there are definitely a couple of tracks here that are well worth listening to, and pockets of really interesting sounds, Afraid of Heights doesn’t quite make the cut.