On October 2nd, Nathan Williams will release V, his fifth full-length effort as Wavves. Five albums deep, Williams finds himself at a bit of a crossroads. His 2013 record, Afraid of Heights, found him on a major label for the first time ever, writing bigger hooks, better sing-a-longs, and cutting the level of fuzz in favor of a pop direction. But a fuzz heavy collaboration record with Cloud Nothings and recent label disputes seem to hint that Williams has other plans for his trajectory. Where exactly that is, we won't know until October, when V drops. But in the meantime, Wavves have set off on a massive new tour, bringing along Chicago rock act Twin Peaks and the brand-spanking new Oakland quartet SWMRS, to showcase new material and to play their records in the most raw space possible. We caught their set at the Neptune and have little doubt that the new record will knock our socks off.Calling SWMRS a brand new act is a bit unfair - most of the band have actually been playing together since they were single digit ages. The band has had several monikers over the years, most recently their six year stint as Emily's Army. But with SWMRS, the band has grown their hair out and is starting fresh with a new presence and a clean slate of tracks, including the fantastic "Miley" single from their forthcoming debut album (early 2016), which dropped the day of the show. And if the rest of the record is anything like what we heard at the Neptune today, then you'll be hearing a lot more of the SWMRS name starting next year. The band opened with an abbreviated version of their 17 minute rock opus "Like Harry Dean Stanton", then weaved through relatively unknown tracks with ease. This confidence made complete sense, as the brother duo of Cole and Max Becker rocked the front row like a headliner. At their aide, drummer Joey Armstrong and bassist Seb Mueller kept furious rhythm that felt like it didn't let up for the entire duration of the set. "Miley" b-side "Uncool" appeared, as did the incredible Rocket Power tribute "Tido, Don't Give Me The Stink Eye", but SWMRS weren't counting on an ounce of familiarity from the audience to hype every beat of their set. Part pop punk, part ruthless west coast surf, SWMRS are just what the kids need, and we'll be seeing them again real soon.
Even in the span of less than a year, a band can become more approachable, more presentable, and more of a testament to their own talent than it ever seems so. That's exactly the sort of thing that seems to have happened with Chicago rock band Twin Peaks, as this week marks the band's second Seattle appearance on tour for second LP Wild Onion (their first being the Vera show they played with Meatbodies last November). Last time, Twin Peaks were fueled by the more traditional punk sense of chaos to feed their fire. This time around, they were a well oiled machine ready to feel off any energy the crowd gave them and multiply it ten fold. I mean, Clay has always been as magnetic and ridiculous as he is here (see: licking guitar and microphone headstands), but as a unit, Twin Peaks are starting to feel less like a band for throwing elbows in a pit and more like a band for onstage interaction and singing along in a mob of delirious fans. And truly, their music is ready for it. Singles like "I Found A New Way" and "Flavor" are packed and ready for global explosion. Pair that the live show we saw tonight, and you have a recipe for success. I'll venture to say next time Twin Peaks come through for a headliner show, it will be at a venue double the size.
Three-fourths of Wavves do their own sound check, and then the band emerges wordlessly and go straight into Afraid of Heights opener "Sail to the Sun". While Stephen Pope deservedly throws metal hair over a Flying-V bass, most of Wavves are pretty spartan on stage, holding gaze with the back wall and throwing down one riff after another of pure, unadulterated rock and roll. They exist in sharp contrast to the tie-dye peace smiley banner that paints the foreground in some kind of stoner rock battle between anxiety and nirvana. In fact, they exist in sharp contrast to what you would generally suppose Wavves' live presentation to be. Take the Afraid of Heights title track, for example, which made an appearance about halfway through the set. As the crowd of fanatical teens jumps three feet in the air singing along, I half expected a wry smile to glisten "I'll always be on my own, fucked and alone". But no - from the defense of his jet black mop, you can't see a single expression on Nathan Williams' face.
Tonight, Wavves played "No Life For Me" for the first time ever live. The Williams-led title track from the collaboration album with Cloud Nothings is a burner that the rest of the setlist should be proud to stand beside for several reasons. First, it is a rock throwdown among the best of Wavves' catalogue. Second, it is an honest statement about post-fame anxiety that you feel in every second of its play time. Dylan Baldi tackled the fears and anxieties of his millennial twenties on his incredible 2014 record Here and Nowhere Else. With "No Life For Me", it seems that Wavves is ready to join the conversation, albeit in his own way. Our first offerings from V have all been solid. Both "Way Too Much" and "Flamezesz" have turned Williams' internal monologue outwards. No longer is he crying out "I'll always be on my own". Instead, he's making an honest assessment of how ritual smoking and drinking and half truths are ruining solid relationships. The ironic disinterest of Afraid of Heights has disappeared. In its place is something much more self aware.
Of course, that doesn't mean Wavves have lost interest in writing fuzzy rock throwdowns - one minute of "My Head Hurts" live proves that couldn't be further from the truth. With it comes the best mosh pit of the night. The kids are jumping on stage and surfing off with complete disregard for the teams of security on both sides of the band trying to snag divers before they step on something expensive. They may not know the words yet, but by the third chorus, they are all screaming it at the top of their lungs. Wavves have a way of speaking to that euphoric party animal part of your soul that nobody else possesses. But yet, Williams is starting to ask if there is more. No Life For Me kicked off the conversation with a heavy thesis statement. Maybe V will ease off the throttle a bit and give us all something to chew on. In the meantime, don't be surprised if he doesn't give you much to go off of on stage other than the occasional screaming guitar solo. Punk is for the kids, but growing up and growing into yourself is something takes time, and Wavves aren't afraid to let their listeners choose their own adventure.
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