**1/2 (out of four)
Projecting apathy and brattiness while trying to make art that deserves attention is a delicate balance. Nathan Williams, the face (and originally the only member) of Wavves, has been feeling his way through this tension for the last few years with albums that have grown progressively more coherent--even as they continue to project a similarly disengaged attitude, best encapsulated in the title of 2011's "Life Sux" EP.
"Afraid of Heights," the fourth Wavves album and the band's major label debut, is by far the best thing the band has ever done, simply because it sounds like someone was invested in some part of the recording process. As opposed to the nearly unlistenable lo-fi recordings of the early Wavves albums and the all-encompassing aura of boredom on "King of the Beach," "Afraid of Heights" is exactingly produced, marked by blistering but tightly contained guitars and clear, sneering vocals that accentuate the hooks instead of burying them.
Standouts "Demon to Lean On," "Paranoid" and "Gimme A Knife" offer a blend of anxious energy, punk straightforwardness and disarming pop song-craft that closely echoes bands like Nirvana, Blink-182 and Weezer. In an era when dubstep drops have begun to replace guitars among the Warped Tour set, Wavves might at first come across as reassuring or refreshing.
But while much of the music that Wavves seems to consider an influence had its moments of balancing angst with silliness, "Afraid of Heights" begins to feel uniformly bleak. Lyrics like "none of you will ever understand me" ("Lunge Forward") sound as much like lazy retreads of past Wavves songs as they do like an upset teenager's poetry.
It's great that Wavves have finally started caring enough to write some cool songs, but sometimes it's hard to see why we should care about such a disinterested viewpoint.
In concert: April 1 at Subterranean
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye's Facebook page.
Copyright © 2015, RedEye