Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wavves, "King of the Beach"; Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs"

Sometimes you press play and you know within seconds that you're listening to a great album. That couldn't have been more true the first time I heard "King of the Beach". Previously, Wavves' music had left me a bit dazed and confused. Its basic building blocks were easily extracted from the lo-fi din -- the manic energy of surf-punk, the fuzzed-out guitar squalls of JAMC, the high frequency crush of great noise music. But I couldn't assemble those pieces into a unified whole. What was Wavves' second album ("Wavvves") supposed to be? To me, it had a lot more in common with metal than with pop or punk music, largely thanks to the distorted vocals and blankets of guitar noise. And where were the tunes? Perhaps they were buried too deeply to be heard properly, or perhaps they were never supposed to be there to begin with (I wouldn't bother searching too hard for melodies on a noise record).

I didn't know what to make of some of the advance press surrounding "King of the Beach" ... Nathan Williams went and got himself a real producer? So you're saying that the record won't sound like shit? Wasn't that the entire essence of Wavves, to tear the needle off the record and to sound like shit?

Nope. I finally get Wavves, and while the same building blocks are still there (surf's up, JAMC, etc.) , they've been merged with a bunch of irresistibly addictive rock n roll melodies. Back to front, it's the most consistent collection of tunes I've heard on a straight-up rock album in who knows how long. Every song won me over in less than fifteen seconds. It's as if Williams knew exactly how to press my buttons (in a good way) -- the sample of "Da Doo Ron Ron" on "Mickey Mouse" was just the icing on the cake in that respect.

There are plenty of great 10-track, 40-minute albums. There are plenty of great 70-minute double albums. There are plenty of great 60-70 minute albums with long, epic tracks (especially in ambient and techno).

There's an inbetween category that has always been something of a nuisance ... how many great, 15-20 track, 60-65 minute albums can you name? There's usually one word that best describes an album with that many tracks in the 3-4-5 minute range -- dragging.

Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" really drags toward the end, before "The Sprawl II" rescues the album's second half. I don't know why they didn't make another 45-minute album like their first two, especially because the best ten tracks from "The Suburbs" would have made for one hell of an album. And yeah, I too am a bit tired of having to sit through yet another Arcade Fire album about bored teenagers looking to escape the shackles of their cookie-cutter lives. But there are a number of solid tracks here, and in particular, the "synth" songs ("Half Light II" and "The Sprawl II") offer a spectacular glimpse at how the band's sound might mature into something even more wonderful in the future (any indie rock collective that wants to take more cues from Blondie is making the right move in my book).

The rapid cycle of praise and backlash that's come with "The Suburbs" has been hilarious to watch. After the ink had dried on a series of glowing reviews, news broke about their debut at #1 on the album charts, which was followed by a bunch of "what does this mean for the future of indie rock and indie labels?" handwringing and acrid reminders that a #1 album doesn't mean as much, sales-wise, as it once did. Arcade Fire have long since been lauded as the indie band laying golden eggs, even from before the release of "Funeral". Even back then, they had a number of famous fans in their corner, such as U2 and David Bowie. Nevertheless, five years ago, was ANYBODY predicting they'd have a #1 album in their future? Jeez, let's all sit back and enjoy it for a few weeks.

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