Last summer when I first heard “Mickey Mouse” and “Cool Jumper” I knew Nathan Williams had survived his onstage meltdown in Spain for the better. These songs were different, but filled with the same angsty energy that had made 2009’s Wavves such an exciting release. Williams was recording again, and judging by his new sound, had been listening to a lot of Merriweather Post Pavilion. I was enamored by those two songs and went to his concert this August, hoping to hear them. He played neither. Typical of the young lo-fi, punk rocker, he played what he wanted to play, and until I heard King of the Beach, I figured he’d forgotten all about both songs (“Mickey Mouse” is included on the album). Then last month I heard “Post-Acid“, a decisively more “punk” song than the previous two. My first listen led me to believe he’d lost it all on drugs and was trying to make it as a Blink 182 revivalist. But, after numerous listens, the song reveals its depth and the melody in Williams’ voice is surprisingly charming. This was a solid pop-punk song by a California kid with a serious ear for discerning the most glorious melodies beneath pales and pales full of beach sand distortion. Joined by former members of the late Jay Reatard’s touring band, Wavves sound fuller and more pumped on this album. In last years’ Wavves, Williams used his voice to force a pop element into what were essentially noise-punk songs; he does the same here, it’s just that the cleaned up production and intentionally craftier songwriting emphasises the pop and punk elements of beach rock much more so.
King of the Beach is an easier, and all in all better album than anything from Wavves’ past. And when I say easier, I say that with the deepest respect to artistic intention and experimental devotion. This is by no means a standard punk-rock album, and it’s certainly not as lo-fi poppy as the music of Best Coast (Nathan’s girlfriend is lead singer Bethany Cosentino), but Williams uses his discretion in drawing on elements of both genres, though the last two songs “Convertable Balloon” and “Baby Say Goodbye” are about as Beach Boys sounding as a punk kid could ever sound. His songwriting is very similar to previous works, with lyrics like “Let the sun burn my eyes, let it burn my back” from the very fun title track, and “I hate myself man, but whose to blame” from “Take on the World”. He’s still a young kid who loves the beach and the sun, but is very at odds with the world and the growing up process. In his typically self-effacing way, Williams even takes a stab at a love song with the charming “Green Eyes”. Lyrically I’m not sure that it’s true, but the cleaner sound makes this album a lighter affair than last year’s album. Barcelona meltdown and brash immaturity be damned, this is an excellent follow-up album and an improvement in nearly every way. King of the Beach should expose Nathan Williams and his band to a broader audience when it releases August 3 via Fat Possum.
Read our friend Corban Goble’s interview with Nathan Williams for Time Out magazine here.