Is there any musician that we feel we know as well as Wavves’ Nathan Williams? Via Twitter, we follow the intricacies of his relationship with Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, snicker as he brags about claw machine victories between tour stops (three in a row he claimed!), and even were able to share in the experience of being incarcerated for drug possession in a foreign country. So when Williams changes his chant of wanting to “meet Dave Grohl” to wanting to “be Dave Grohl” on Life Sux‘s “I Wanne Be Dave Grohl,” it is with a shrug that the listener realizes that the frontman is well on his way. Sure, Wavves hardly has the back catalog or earning power of Foo Fighters, but Williams has managed to become an MTV presence without losing his every-man, bro next door quality. Quite a feat, if you think about it.
It wasn’t long ago that Nathan Williams was melting down from excessive drug use while on stage at Primavera Sound, but was quickly able to reinvent himself and the Wavves project by cooling-off on the scuzzy no-fi that defined the second self-titled and turned its emphasis to beach ready pop-punk, complete with a curled-lip and a hair-toss of brattiness. All in all, King Of The Beach was endearing, and even if it found its fair share of detractors, not many of them exist in the critics circle, which almost universally praised the effort.
Life Sux finds a middle ground in Wavves’ previous two releases. All five songs in the EP have well-defined hooks and a certain breezy and carefree attitude to them, much like King Of The Beach. But, being the first release on Williams’ own Ghost Ramp imprint, the recording quality returns to the lo-fi roots, choosing authenticity over accessibility. For better or worse, it still begs the question: what would Dave Grohl do?
Grohl has never been one to shy away from a collaborations, and Wavves brings along a host of celebrity voices for this first label release. Most successful is album highlight “Nodding Off,” in which Mrs. Wavves Bethany Cosentino adds “woo woo”s to the verses and chimes in with her trademark vocals for the singalong chorus. Williams and Cosentino manage to make the song feel necessary, as if we had needed these two to make a poppy punk anthem to complete the circle on both of their careers. The song is simple (duh) but strong enough to be a highlight in both artists’ catalogs. On the other hand, Fucked Up’s appearance on “Destroy” comes off as insipid and self-indulgent, not lacking from effort or execution, but, rather, feeling out of place on the otherwise pop-leaning record. When Damian Abraham growls through his second verse, the effect is more comedic than anything, making the listener appreciate the difference between Fucked Up records and Wavves records. Let’s hope the two never cross again.
And though the rest of the EP features both highs (the delightful “Bug,” which sounds like it could be the prototype for which Williams bases all of his best material) and lows (the Weezer b-side material of “Poor Lenore”), the overall affect of Life Sux feels innocuous; an effort that will neither convert detractors or drive-away die hards. The press release for the EP release also revealed that Williams is working on the next Wavves LP, helping add prolific to a slew of adjectives you could use to describe the frontman. Unfortunately, on Life Sux, adequacy also comes to mind, which doesn’t work when you set up Grohl-ish expectations for yourself.