Afraid of Heights

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After the fizzy psych-punk of his last album, King of the Beach, Wavves frontman Nathan Williams seemingly discovered a stash of albums from the '90s and sank deeply under their spell while writing and recording the 2013 follow-up, Afraid of Heights. Working with producer John Hill (of Rihanna and Santigold fame) and loyal sidekick Stephen Pope, Williams crafted an album that has so many influences from the era of grunge, pop-punk, and '90 alt-rock that it's almost too exhausting to play spot the reference on every minute of every song. There are guitars that sound just like Kurt Cobain's, quite a few tracks that sound like Weezer deep cuts, lots of quiet-verse/loud-chorus dynamics, bursts of Pixie-esque angst, and a general feel of hazy nostalgia for the era that bleeds the album of energy and punch. Although some snotty loser punk noise bursts through on the more straightforward rockers like "Mystic," "Cop," and "Beat Me Up," the rest of the album is polished to within an inch of its life, with lots of programming, cello, and extra stuff mucking up the arrangements. There's a thick coat of studio sheen that gums up the works here, making songs like the overblown (and super self-pitying) "Everything Is My Fault" and the lifeless "That's on Me" sound like tracks from albums made by one of the endless number of bands that sprang up on major-label rosters after Nirvana hit big. While it may have seemed like a good idea to try expanding their sound and throwing some new ideas into the mix, sometimes a band just needs to stick with what it does well. If they had stripped away some of the extra production, scaled back on "atmosphere," and played the songs with some fire, the record would have been much better. As it stands, though, Afraid of Heights is just too lifeless and safe-sounding to really make any kind of positive impact. Maybe lovers of '90s revival bands will find something to like here, but anyone who was into the records Wavves made before is out of luck.

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