From their name, to their aesthetic, to their music and lyrics, San Diego-based Wavves exemplifies surf rock. But where can one go, after naming their third album King of the Beach (2010)? Their fourth release Afraid of Heights answers that question with a series of tracks that infuse their typical surf rock style with contemplative lyrics and some experimental instrumentation.
Don’t be fooled by the first minute of album opener “Sail to the Sun,” which starts off sounding like the band decided to trade in their surfboards for cheery glockenspiels. This fake-out introduction quickly gives way to Wavves’ signature surf-rock sound, complete with crashing guitar riffs, thumping drums, and songwriter/vocalist Nathan Williams’ loud, punchy vocals.
While Wavves is a surf rock band, Afraid of Heights is not merely a collection of fast, catchy songs. Like the tide, the album has moments of high-speed intensity interspersed with slower, more textured tracks, including the cello-tinged “Dog” and album closer “I Can’t Dream,” which crescendos from a lo-fi guitar ballad into a full-bodied conclusion. The album’s biggest shortcoming is its inclusion of shorter tracks, such as “Mystic” and “Beat Me Up,” which end before they have a chance to go anywhere, and occasionally come off as filler.
Afraid of Heights is a step—or is it a paddle?—in the right direction for Wavves, experimenting with the band’s typical catchy surf rock sound to demonstrate a potential for something more layered and complex.