Straight from the dungeons of L.A., Wavves are releasing Afraid Of Heights, their fourth album and first on the Mom And Pop label. Now a duo consisting of guitarist Nathan Williams and bassist Stephen Pope, they sound bigger, brasher, and shockingly professional than ever on Afraid Of Heights that positions the band to take their rightful place amongst the pop-punk gods.You know the story by now. Bored dude in his parents' tool shed-turned-room with no insulation and a record stuck to a hole in the wall to keep the mice out turns on a four-track recorder, fucks around and ends up with two of the oddest, noisiest and downright catchy albums of recent memory. Those two records (the eponymous Wavves the eponyymous Wavvves) were winningly, messily chaotic—grand on a small scale, but not necessarily world-beaters. Which is why when Williams, then solo, linked up with erstwhile Jay Reatard sidemen Stephen Pope (bass) and Billy Hayes (drums) and busted the door down with the stunner that was King Of The Beach, a pop-punk blackout for the DeLonge and Deleuze crowd. After the smoke of King Of The Beach had cleared, Williams and Pope released the Life Sux EP, a testament to the crushing powers of rock n' roll and also ennui. The product of more than a year of writing and recording, Afraid Of Heights expands the Wavves sound while remaining true to the band's original vision—it was created with absolutely no label involvement, a specter that nearly derailed King Of The Beach. Working with producer John Hill (known for his work with M.I.A. and Santigold, as well as with hip-hop acts such as Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan), the band found a willing party in creating what they felt was the truest expression of what they wanted. As for the Afraid Of Heights sessions themselves, Williams paid for them out-of-pocket, explaining his reasoning with, "In doing so, I had no one to answer to. We recorded the songs how and when we wanted without anybody interfering, and that's how it's supposed to be."

Lyrically, Williams took the focus less off of his own melancholy and out into the world, with songs that dealt with crooked preachers ("Sail To The Sun"), relationships ("Dog") and killing cops ("Cop"). Even when he reaches outside his own damaged psyche, Williams is still making Wavves songs, saying, "The general theme of the record is depression and anxiety, being death-obsessed and paranoid of impending doom. I feel like the narration is almost schizophrenic if you listen front to back; every word is important, even the constant contradictions and lack of self-worth. That's all a part of this record—questioning everything not because I'm curious, but because I'm paranoid." That paranoia manifests itself on many of the album's best tracks, such as the spacey drones and bummazoid vibes of the Weezer-referencing, getting-drunk-because-you-can't-bring-yourself-to-care-vibey "Afraid Of Heights," or the string-aided "I Can't Dream," which rounds the record out with the optimistic, "I can finally sleep," before subverting itself with, "But I can't dream." With their biggest and boldest-sounding record yet, Wavves might have finally come into their own, a fully-realized punk rock force in both sound and vision.

Kyle Thomas is King Tuff. He's been using that name on-and-off for a long time, but pre-2007, he was Kyle, one-eighth of the freak folk band Feathers, who made gentle, Eastern-tinged acoustic tracks. With J Mascis, he was in Witch, which had jammier, stoner rock leanings. But Thomas needed another outlet, one that was truer to his own rock'n'roll tastes: He had been writing songs since he was about 10, obsessing over guitar heroes and bands like Green Day. So he revived King Tuff, having released a few CD-R albums in the early 2000s, and turned a batch of songs written between 2003 and 2006 into the project's proper debut album, 2008's Was Dead.

It's a tight, consistent, and unbelievably catchy rock album that quickly and effectively defined who and what "King Tuff" was, stuffed with killer guitar solos, infectiously sunny hooks, and lyrics that come off like personality-defining mantras. If you were at all familiar with Thomas' other work, the immediacy of Was Dead probably came as a surprise. But this was the album he'd been hoping to make all along: "There's been a few diversions into other types of music, but I've pretty much always had a rock'n'roll heart."

The LP certainly made the rounds with garage heads, and eventually grabbed the attention of the Sub Pop offices. But by the time King Tuff was released last year, Was Dead was already out-of-print and had become a collector's item. After an initial run of CD-Rs in 2007, it came out on Colonel Records in 2008, was pressed four times, and eventually showed up on eBay for exorbitant costs. Even if it was just a couple of years old, owning a copy of Was Dead became something tangibly special. It initiated you into a club with a bunch of other weirdos, and the one thing you all had in common was one weird, great power pop album.

Its greatness definitely felt like a secret. While the garage focus at the time was on King Khan, the Black Lips, and Jay Reatard, Was Dead didn't exactly make a splash in the larger critical conversation. Thomas, of course, doesn't care about maintaining any sort of cult status he might have accidentally developed; he just wants people to hear it: "It's really flattering to be thought of as so 'collectible,' but you'd much rather that just everyone could have it."

A new reissue on Burger Records proves that, as power pop-leaning rock'n'roll albums go, Was Dead is a front-to-back masterwork. While a lot of these kinds of records work under the "peaks and valleys" principle (because even the Ramones had songs like "Here Today Gone Tomorrow" and "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend"), this thing is almost all peaks, one exhilarating hook after another, making for an album that begs to be blasted in a four-door with the sun shining and the windows down. It's got the hit-after-hit sequencing of Boston minus the proggy extravagance. It's legitimately tough to peg "best songs" on this album: "A Pretty Dress" and "Just Strut" are easy contenders with their saccharine melodies and fiery electric guitars, but about half a dozen others could easily be tapped as favorites.

The album's pace slows down exactly once during "Stone Fox", but even that track is fueled by a steady electric guitar churn, and ultimately, it's a much-needed cool-down to springboard into the choogle of killer closer "So Desperate". The album's final stretch offers some of its best moments. Thomas delivers a simple, triumphant melody, which seems to trigger an instant dopamine release. He caps the song's chorus with a set of "woooooooooo WOO WOO!" vocals and rounds the track out with a brief but point-perfect guitar solo. It's a very satisfying cap to an impressive album.
As a whole, Was Dead paints a portrait of the man behind King Tuff. "Freak When I'm Dead" is all about wanting to be buried in all his rings and favorite clothes. ("Everything with patches and everything with holes.") "Sun Medallion" paints a portrait of a man who drinks black coffee, drives a standard transmission green Chevrolet, smokes pot, and won't go anywhere without his sun medallion. There are songs about love ("Connection") and lust ("Animal"). The world of Was Dead is attainable, warm, familiar, fun, and catchy as hell-- "Alone and Stoned" from King Tuff is a worthy successor. These are the songs that people scream back at him, word-for-word, in concert while he shreds, wearing all his rings and his sun medallion. Without the adornments, the guitar solos, and these songs, he's Kyle. This is the album that made him King.

Jacuzzi Boys

The year, 2007. The Boys, Jacuzzi. Hatched inside a vulture’s nest, Jacuzzi Boys emerged from deep within the Florida wilds, three radioactive chicks cawing for their piece of electric rock pie.

With No Seasons (Florida’s Dying) they freaked their way through the swamps, a psycho stomp of a record, all hallucinations and hand claps. Glazin’ (Hardly Art) found a more polished sound. They installed AC units inside their mobile homes, found a way to turn neon into ice cubes. Now, with their third full-length, the self-titled Jacuzzi Boys, they’re going grand, building limestone monuments to those that boogied before them, while writing hypnotic ear worms by the light of a cigarette. Gone is the swamp-thing snarl. In it’s place, the indestructible cool of the casino slot-jockey with nothing to lose.

Recorded at Key Club Recording Co. in Benton Harbor, Michigan—same as 2010’s Glazin’—the new record takes full advantage of expert engineers Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffins’ sonic sandlot, with Kramer in charge of mastering. The end result? A smashing set of tunes as dazzling as a sparkler.

It’s like that movie you once saw. The one with the boy and the girl and the plastic lounger on the beach. “Be My Prism” was the invitation. “Black Gloves” and “Double Vision” the promise. “Dust” was the rising tide. “Rubble,” the dirty uncle. “Hotline” was the lightning storm, and “Ultraglide” was the ending, the part where he drove her home with the windows down.

You remember you liked it.

It stayed with you while you swam alone in your pool that night.

$20 ADV / $22 DOS


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