Mudhoney, from left, Mark Arm, Guy Maddison, Dan Peters and Steve Turner. (Emily Rieman )
When Nathan Williams promises, "Still I'll be your dog," on the new album by his L.A. fuzz-punk band Wavves, he's nodding of course to "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by perhaps the greatest fuzz-punk band of them all, the Stooges. But Williams seems also to be invoking the memory of Mudhoney, the long-running Seattle outfit known to cover "I Wanna Be Your Dog"; its sludgy-but-sweet guitars are all over "Afraid of Heights," Wavves' fourth studio disc and their first to get a big major-label push. That's not the only grunge-era echo here, either: In "That's on Me" Williams sings about someone "soaked in bleach," directly quoting Kurt Cobain in Nirvana's "Come As You Are."
Yet Wavves, who play the Smell on April 21 and 22, aren't going retro: In the 20 years since the height of grunge, pop has accelerated and diversified at an exponential rate, and you can hear Williams keeping up with that pace on "Afraid of Heights," which he made with a producer, John Hill, whose clients include Shakira and Santigold. "Sail to the Sun" opens the album with the sound of programmed bells before it revs into power-chord gear, while "Mystic" rides a doctored drum-machine groove; even "Dog" has room for strings and glockenspiel, a punk's attempt to do pretty. Despite the expansive scope, the album moves quickly and efficiently, as though Williams and Hill were determined not to lose the listener. For a record with a song called "Everything Is My Fault," it couldn't be less self-indulgent.
In contrast, the members of Mudhoney, scheduled to stop at the Echo on April 14, seem devoted entirely to amusing themselves on their latest, "Vanishing Point." "Minimal production, low yield," Mark Arm sings in "I Like It Small," a typically knowing defense of indie-rock obscurantism, "intimate settings, limited appeal." The songs take their time, spiraling out into lengthy solos and instrumental jams, and frontman Arm doesn't deliver melody so much as a generalized cranky-dude attitude — even when he's lifting like Williams from familiar songs, as in "I Don't Remember You," which nicks a bit of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." The appealingly bratty result wears out long before "Afraid of Heights." But maybe these old dogs have earned the right not to care.
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