This is Nick Sylvester, talking about Wavves:
Instead let’s talk about the persona of Nathan Williams, a 24-year-old man whose lyrics move from teenage fantasy (“you’re never gonna stop me!”) to pre-teen rebellion (“I could say I’m sorry… but it wouldn’t mean shit!”) to a kind of infantile neediness (“I never wanna leave home, Everything in the back of my brain/ told me that I would be sick/ when I’m out there”). These are tough themes to pull off but they’ve been pulled off before, if only because there’s a difference between directness and artlessness. There’s also a difference between self-loathing, which Williams thinks he’s up to, versus self-pity, which is all I’m hearing. Here is a 24-year-old man who sings with a straight face, “Misery, will you comfort me in my time of need?” A 24-year-old man who fundamentally misunderstands what made fellow lowlife Kurt Cobain so great — not the navel-gazing, but the umbilical noose.
This is Tom Ewing, discussing here on Tumblr:
re. this specific point: I don’t really want to be Captain Save-A-Wavves because I’ve only listened to the record a few times and “enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would” isn’t the hugest recommendation but I can’t hear much of a “straight face”. The self-pity seems to me to be way more dorky and knowing and frankly TROLLISH than that. (Which, OK, isn’t ever going to produce great art but I think great art is a bit of a straw man in this case).
There’s probably some kind of distinction to be made here between whether we’re talking about Williams’ attitude as a moral point or a stylistic one,* but let’s hop past that for a second, because what Tom’s talking about is one of the main things that’s wound up fascinating me about Wavves.
See, in the past there were certain styles of guitar-pop that indie bands just played, in a pretty low-pressure way: if you liked that kind of thing, there it was, but it was probably not going to lead to many arguments about value and media exposure and whether it deserved a Best New Music or not. And right now, Wavves is a slight outlier in a crop of bands resurrecting some of those same styles — the Best Coast record, for instance, is working a kind of indie-pop staple sound, the kind of thing bands have done for decades in a no-big-deal way, almost on the assumption that someone had always been doing it and someone always would be.
And I think for most listeners it remains that way — a charming find, not an issue — but in today’s arena of music press and music chatter it can become a little strange: sometimes there’s something fundamentally unassuming about the style of music that fits poorly with spotlights and bold claims of importance. And if you’re going to get a lot of attention for playing that kind of music, what can you do about it? The thing that gets me is my suspicion that Williams, consciously or not, has found a weird answer to that question: be a brat, both in sound and persona. Be explicitly bratty and whiny and, yes, maybe trollish, to an extent where you wind up suggesting that you’re practically against the attention, against the press, don’t care, are rolling your eyes at all the people discussing you, and will eventually go home to your TV and bong and skateboard and it’s probably the people posting about that to their blogs (hi, mom!) who should feel silly.
Which, yeah, is not necessarily productive of great art, and easy to criticize on human/moral ground — but in terms of crafting a persona that responds to the situation, and forces an answer to some of the questions that’ll revolve around some other bands, it kinda works, I think.
* I wrote something here a long time ago that touches on how Williams comes off as a person, which is mostly a guy with a weird lack of agency, a do-it-yourselfer who’s not really into doing-it — in this human sense I do agree with Sylvester.