Go ahead — make a list of the weirdest, wildest things you’d like to do over the next few months. Southern California outfit Wavves has created a sure-fire soundtrack for a strange summer with its latest, You’re Welcome.
Nathan Williams and Co. often get pigeonholed with a trio of terms starting with the letter “s.” In front of the word “rock,” people place “surf,” “skate,” and/or “stoner.” There are trace elements of all those pastimes — and the sort of music that tends to accompany them — in the Wavves sound. But failing to elaborate does the band a disservice.
Williams has a serious sense of songcraft that can be traced all the way back to rock’s founding fathers. But he and his bandmates also have honed a bloodhound’s instinct, sniffing out fresh ways to deconstruct, scuff up, and altogether shred all that melodic loveliness.
On its sixth album — not counting No Life for Me, its 2015 co-op with Cloud Nothings — Wavves reunites with stalwart producer Dennis Herring (Modest Mouse, Counting Crows). Herring worked with the band on 2010’s King of the Beach and 2015’s V, and seems willing to put a microphone up close to the band’s personality and capture all the feedback.
With its oscillating guitar riff and rolling drums, opener “Daisy” sets the tone for everything to come; Wavves sounds like the house band at a twisted luau that’s getting more debauched by the minute. As is often the case, the band somehow finds a way to write a huge chorus without calling much attention to it. All the extracurriculars distract from the hook until you realize you’re singing along by the second or third time through.
You can cling to your pop bangers or cruise to country tailgating anthems, but by the time the band gets to “No Shade,” you’ll swear it’s the song of the summer. In a mere 106 seconds, Wavves delivers a knockout punch of fuzzed-out guitar, sing-song vocals and huge drums. For as short as it is, “No Shade” evokes many images. It sounds like a Pulp Fiction pool party. It will remind children of the ‘90s of wasting their summer break on the couch, trying to sneak some MTV while their parents weren’t looking.
Other early highlights include “Million Enemies,” with its deceptively cool chorus harmonies, and “Come to the Valley.” With its whirligig organ and smiley vocals, the latter sounds like a tripped-out TV theme song. The cut contains a doo-wop breakdown that would make Bruno Mars feel... well, Bruno Mars wouldn’t be fazed, but it’s a fine touch.
Late in the set, “Dreams of Grandeur” is a hazy pop-punk confessional, the sound of someone navigating the tension between twin desires: to be emotionally available and to be left alone. Closer “I Love You” sounds like it’s being beamed in on some distant AM radio signal. The tune finds a sweet spot between Buddy Holly the legend and “Buddy Holly,” the signature Weezer song.
You’re Welcome is a record stocked with earworms, but it also lives along an emotional razor’s edge. Williams prizes melody above all, but seasons his songs with misanthropy. He comes off like the kind of guy who would gladly drive you out for a day at the beach, then slap your sunburn on the way home. He has more than a little Frank Black — or Black Francis, depending on your preference — to his personality. There are more than a few Pixies touchstones here, actually. On tracks like “Animal,” Stephen Pope sounds as if he took a few courses at the Kim Deal School for Snazzy Basslines.
The band’s previous record, V, was made for Warner Bros. This time out, the band is on Williams’ Ghost Ramp label. At times, You’re Welcome sounds like a band having fun with its newfound freedom. At others, it’s the sound of gleefully flipping off the major-label bosses.
Whatever Wavves is doing, You’re Welcome is a blast of fresh air tailor-made for the start of summer, sunset fades and moments of escape in whatever season they come.