ALBUM REVIEW: Wavves ‘Afraid Of Heights’
After much painful anticipation, WAVVES‘ fifth studio album Afraid Of Heights is finally here!
Released on the 22nd of March in Australia through POD, Afraid Of Heights has been noted as the most professional and mature sounding Wavves album to date. This is probably due to how personal the character of this record is. Also due to the fact that Williams’ was on no time limit to get it done, nor did he have to answer to label executives and the like as he recorded the entire thing with his own money; therefore working by his own method.
As a result, we have nothing but pure Wavves the entire way through Afraid Of Heights, which we love, so we thought we’d break down each song for you individually.
‘Sail To The Sun’ could almost be described as innocent at first glance, as it opens Afraid Of Heights with a twinkly, playful theme. This is up until the intruding hits a bass drum, which eventually kicks out the initial setting and replaces it with a driving bass riff and darker tones through the eerie mellotron, coupled with the strength of Nathan Williams’ distinctive voice, as well as the energy of the guitars and drums. This track definitely took a turn for the better.
After the energy that struck us from the record’s opening track, ‘Demon To Lean On’ enters with less layers, yet is in no way a weak track. Williams’ vocals carry on throughout the verses, exemplifying his impressive lyricism that has been suggested in previous reviews of the new album. This track is a good one, which is probably why it was one of the first singles prior to the LP’s release date!
‘Demon To Lean On’ closes with heavy distortion, and rolls into track three – ‘Mystic’. If you were to see this track performed live, it’s the most likely to be accompanied by a string of hand-claps led by the audience. Unlike the cleanliness of the first two tracks, ‘Mystic’ takes us back to the earliest of Wavves‘ archives due to its lo-fi production; particularly in Williams’ voice.
Lyrically, ‘Lunge Forward’ isn’t too inviting of our opinion or company. With lyrics like, “None of you will ever understand me” and “My brain turned inside out, my head’s spinning upside down,” we’re told of how fucked up Williams’ emotions and mind can potentially result to. There’s more to it than that though, investigate the verses and you’ll know what I mean.
For the most gentle sounding track on the record thus far, ‘Dog’ has a lot going on. Apart from the guitars and percussion, listen out for a glockenspiel, tremolo, synth bells and a string arrangement. This is all played after a bass line sneaks around (which is pretty much the only instrument holding a dark undertone). This goes hand in hand with the lyricism. Williams’ sings ambiguously, confessing to either an obsession or an unhealthy relationship. He offers his loyalty to whoever is on the undeserving receiving end of this track.
This is the first song on Afraid Of Heights that was co-written with Wavves‘ bassist and back-up vocalist, Stephen Pope.
Throwing us back into a crispy classic King Of The Beach kind of sound, Afraid Of Heights‘ title track continues to play with the contrast of a deranged persona singing against upbeat instrumentation. The lyrics of ‘Afraid Of Heights’ channels the same sort of “whatever” theme evident in a Nevermind (Nirvana) song, such as ‘Lithium’ or ‘Polly’.
There’s a slight twist attached to the end of this track, as it experiences a completely different mood as opposed to the first few minutes of ‘Afraid Of Heights’.
Williams lets his guard down a little in ‘Paranoid’, admitting to his frustrating paranoia that appears to be constantly bothering him, considering the amount of times he repeats the lyrics “I’m paranoid” and “I don’t know”.
‘Cop’ opens with a kid vocalising that their anger could forcibly end the life of another. You may expect a huge combustion of loud guitars and heavy drums to follow this young rage, but don’t. It’s a track made up of acoustic & bass guitars, whistling, percussion, keys and cello, as well as lyrics offering the trust of a secret; with such vocals executed in a swirly, playful manner.
‘Beat Me Up’ lyrically implies an unstable relationship. Williams wishes to spend time with his special someone, yet is constantly rejected due to previous affairs that lie within the history of the relationship. So in turn, he proudly asks to be beaten up, as he is at the emotional point where all hope is lost.
You know when you get to the end of a physical record, and it has that scratchy, repetitive sound as it rotates on your turntable with no more songs to play? That’s the sort of sound I imagine when hearing the opening of ‘Everything Is My Fault’. I think this repetitive sensation is also quite suited to the message of this song, which is quite self-explanatory having considered the title of the track.
It is instrumentally carried out really nicely, and is almost executed in small chapters. It’s definitely the most experimental song on Afraid Of Heights.
One of Afraid Of Heights‘ more heavier tracks, ‘That’s On Me’ speaks out, dwindling a little on self-realisation. There’s lots of layers in this one that build on a real rock sound. This is pressured by the distortion of the guitars and great use of cymbals, as well as the rest of the drum kits high level of urgency.
Again, Wavves‘ have entered the gates of a school yard as a kid has a field day opening up ‘Gimme A Knife’. The creative minds of children stand next to the loss of religious faith. Williams seems to experience deception and disappointment judging by the lyrics of this song.
‘I Can’t Dream’ closes the joyride that has been Wavves‘ fifth studio album. Through the varied levels of energy mustered throughout Afraid Of Heights, this track instrumentally curates a really beautiful arrangement, consisting of a cello, glockenspiel, guitar, bass and percussion. It lyrically daunts on a hard time for Williams, which is identifiable throughout the entirety of Afraid Of Heights.
If you have/get the Australian version of Afraid Of Heights that was released through POD, you’ll notice that the album actually holds 14 tracks, even though the tracklisting suggests otherwise. This is because we’re lucky enough to have the bonus track, ‘Hippies Is Punks’. This track is the pinnacle of this now known shitty relationship that we’ve heard about through the new album. Sick of misery and dwelling on the past, Williams calls it quits, requesting to drop out of this other person’s business in order to move forward with his life.
After listening to the entire album closely, it’s clear that there are a few themes going on here that all come back to Nathan Williams’ frustrations. I could be very wrong here, but I believe that the word “Heights” in the title could also be thought of as “levels”, due to these different themes, as some come across as more important than others. One level could be the more exterior theme that is evoked in ‘Dog’ and ‘Beat Me Up’, whereas ‘Demon To Lean On’, ‘Lunge Forward’ and ‘Paranoid’ are all on a different level as they relate to a more interior theme; interior meaning that they are something trapped within Williams’ mind.
Afraid Of Heights is available now both physically and digitally in Australia through POD. Seriously buy this album.
Words by Hannah Galvin.