King of the Beach

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Label: Fat Possum

Nathan Williams’ whole world has practically changed in a little over a year’s time. The man synonymous with Wavves went from living in his parents’ pool house, watching “Cops” and smoking weed, to home-recording a collection of songs that set millennial dissatisfaction to distorted beach-themed punk rock, getting the indie music press all a-buzz in the first half of 2009, may or may not have punched out a Black Lip, had the same once-adoring music press attempt to torpedo him via ramped-up coverage of an abortive Spanish performance and finally, adopted the former bandmates of the late Jay Reatard, re-tooling Wavves into a rollicking, snotty three-piece. Round and round Williams goes, where he’ll stop, nobody knows.

Turns out that Williams landed in Oxford, MI, whereupon this prodigy of bedroom recording worked in an actual studio (Sweet Tea) on his all-important follow-up, King of the Beach. Recording it was none other than a big-shot producer and owner of Sweet Tea, Dennis Herring, who recorded Good News for People Who Love Bad News, among the odd Counting Crows or Elvis Costello record. Huh!

That’s not to say that all the grime of Williams’ attack has been sanded away; most striking is that you can actually hear- plainly- what he’s singing about. What’s gone is the guitar attack that ended up sounding like the malfunctioning of 2,000 TEAC units and perhaps, most surprisingly, that fatalistic nihilism that colored Wavvves; its hard to imagine the Williams of Wavvves ever singing, “You’re never gonna stop me/ You’re never gonna stop/ King of the Beach!” on the stage-setting title track, much less the kinda-hopeful,”It would be something’/ To take on the world” from “Take On the World.” What a full-scale production element brings Williams and his comrades, Billy Hayes and Stephen Pope, is sharper edge for the irresistible, bratty songs that are Williams’ stock-in-trade. And while Wavvves explored Williams’ keen sense of rhythm, the muscular surge of “Super Soaker” and the goofy “Convertible Balloon” move listeners just as effectively, each in their own weird ways.

King of the Beach sounds like an especially bright summer for Williams, who chides, “I’m just havin’ fun/ With you” on first single “Post Acid” (when he stops his “aahs,” and starts yowling is a great moment) and “Idiot” seems to take the downward trajectory of “So Bored” and force it in another direction. Where King of the Beach falters is on the more “experimental” tracks; on Wavvves, the more noise-oriented tracks provided respite from the guitar onslaught, though here they come dangerously close to sounding like Passion Pit at half-speed (“Baseball Cards”) or derail the album’s pace (“When Will You Come”).

At the end of the day, this is a transitional record for Williams- or, as the case may be, Wavves, The Band. For such a good full-length recorded on his own and without having really been a touring musician before Wavvves’ release, the guy’s figuring it out as he goes along. While his prior darkness and sardonic sense of humor may be curiously missing, Williams is still making music that’s impossible to ignore and it’s a pleasure to hear from him as often as it seems that we will.

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