During the indie explosion of the early 2010s, Wavves’ pop-punky King of the Beach granted the band some growing attention. After their harsh—and frankly, hard to get through—debut records, Wavves and Wavvves, the group’s psychedelic and surf-infused pop anthems cleansed audiences’ palettes and pushed the group in new and fun directions. But while continuing to polish things up in the coming years, projects like Afraid of Heights and V traded higher production value for less grit, and the harsh, garage aesthetic soon went away. And between 2015 and now, the group’s only full-length record, You’re Welcome, was another forgetful record, and seemed to be trending even further from their best work.
Luckily, in this confusing time, everything seems to be changing, and the progression of the Wavves’ sound takes an instant 180° turn on the beginning of Hideaway. Quick and punchy tracks fill out the first section of the tracklist, as Nathan Williams’ distorted voice forces itself through the chaos of “Thru Hell.” Though simple, the album opener fills out its sound with the lo-fi instrumentation the band has been missing, and the quick, hypnotic backing guitars mimic the iconic Hawaii Five-0 theme song, continuing their beach-going inspiration. Also full of expletives, the song’s negligence and cynicism is reminiscent of FIDLAR more than Wavves, often critiquing and complaining about others: “Starin’ at these hideous people / Point the finger but inherently evil.”
Following their electric entrance, the band’s sound continues down this old avenue, but with a much more optimistic flair. “Hideaway” shows Williams taking direct responsibility for his actions, saying “Today could be anything I want it to be / And that’s gonna be a reflection of me.” The track’s silky smooth and high-pitched guitar slides add a bit more glittery fun as well, sweetening the inherent aggression of the production choices. Though it opts for escapism at the end of the day, “I’ll do my best to hideaway,” Williams’ self-awareness is a clear switch from some of the group’s older, jaded material.
This optimism is eventually stretched outward on the very uplifting “Help is on the Way.” Understanding the ups and downs of life, Williams encourages perseverance, pulling from his own experiences and showing “See, there’s nothing to it.” Full of more glittering guitar chords and smooth, “do dos,” Wavves’ first three tracks are a rebirth of their pop-friendly surf punk found on King of the Beach.
However, departures from this equation begin to appear, starting with the very Western “Sinking Feeling.” Along with the saddle-riding “The Blame,” Wavves carry a Southwest, almost-country sound with them, relying on twangy, muted strums, and deep, steady bass lines. Though their production also increases, this is unlike the Wavves we’ve seen in the recent past, trying on a whole new genre hat rather than going back to the boring basics. And the group seems confident and consistent in this role, with strong instrumental packages and deeper, more skillful vocal performances from Williams. Unfortunately, the quick divergence from the reestablished norm is both sudden and uncalled for, creating a pretty solid split between their old identity and a brand new one.
Finally, and sadly, the group brings back the Wavves of recent memory, with “Marine Life” and “Planting a Garden” pairing their psychedelic, punk fun with much higher production value. It’s not the drastic Western change seen already, but cleaning up their already-established sound (both inside and outside of this record) just retells the story of their wilting impact on the industry. Even if they’re quick, the cuts don’t hit as hard, and when there’s no punch to the fun and youthful punk, what else is there?
Hideaway is a couple songs away from being a condensed retelling of Wavves’ history. After a strong reviving their gritty but pop-friendly punk, the group’s experimentation gets the best of them, withdrawing from their strengths for some fun out West and back in the production studio. And though the brief snapshots are the best we’ve seen since 2010, they’re not enough to carry the back half of the record.