From the first verse heard on Hideaway — the latest album by the Nathan Williams-headed project Wavves — it becomes clear that the singer is on the defensive. “Oh I don’t love the people? / You never even met me before” he sings on “Thru Hell”, the album’s opening surf-punk track. “Thru Hell” is the kind of track that’s become expected from Wavves: aggressive, self-deprecating, playful in a laughing-through-the-pain kind of way. He’s still aware of his contentious demeanor, likely not only in the context of the song but in the context of his career overall, one that’s been particularly plagued with PR missteps. In other words, little about Wavves has changed.
For the past decade, the band has built a readily identifiable (if increasingly derivative) discography; indeed, “Thru Hell” bears resemblance to the title track of 2010’s King of the Beach, which also served as its opener. To be fair, Hideaway does offer up some punk songs infused with genre experimentations that help prevent such a knee-jerk dismissal. It’s an achievement possible thanks to TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, who produced the album and was enlisted to give life to these songs that were previously workshopped by the band in abandoned studio sessions. Sitek would play Williams obscure honky tonk songs and Johnny Cash deep cuts; their influence on Hideaway is undeniable. The guitar riff that enters halfway through the straightforward surf-rock ballad “Honeycomb” gives the song a distinct country-western flavor. Williams further embraces the genre on “The Blame”, a rambling track that sees Williams hone in on his lower vocal range to evoke Cash’s crooning.
These ideas offer glimpses into a future for Wavves that isn’t so reliant on the sound that’s been their bedrock since King of the Beach. At the very least, they’re newer ways to deliver Wavves’ blend of depressing albeit catchy rock. “You say the grass is greener on the other side / But I know the truth is that everything dies,” Williams sings on the album’s title track. The teasing guitar notes plucked on the verses of “Planting A Garden” bears a passing resemblance to Pavement, but the choruses just as quickly return to the loud, angsty guitar playing heard on any generic punk-rock track. Hideaway also has Wavves venturing into the indie-pop territory of yesteryear; the playful “Sinking Feeling” wouldn’t feel out of place on an aughts-era Tegan and Sara record. Here, the approach is fleshed through its entire runtime, which only makes the more obvious ‘Wavves’-type tracks get lost in the shuffle (the album’s most aggressive song, “Marine Life”, can’t compete with, say, “Super Soaker”).
Hideaway marks the project’s return to Fat Possum, which released the early LPs Wavves and King of the Beach. Yet, returning to the label only seems to highlight Williams’ current predicament; despite the label hopping, the independent releases, the decade of time spent away, Wavves still hasn’t changed much. Take the single “Help is on the Way”, easily the album’s most hook-laden and accessible track. However, the title belies the song’s cynical message: “Nothings gonna stay okay / I’m getting used to it.” Williams isn’t hopeful, he’s struggling to come to terms with the place he’s found himself in 2021. No wonder he’s on the defensive.