Release Date: Feb 19, 2016
Record label: Bella Union
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Despite having two critically acclaimed full-length LPs and two equally celebrated official EPs under his belt, Wild Nothing's Jack Tatum remains one of the most underrated songwriters of this decade. 2010's Gemini was a slinky, homespun homage to guitar-pop of the 1980s, while 2012's Nocturne took the same formula and beautifully transformed it into, to borrow the common description, a widescreen work of art.
After heading into a real studio on the second Wild Nothing record Nocturne, Jack Tatum recorded the next album in three studios with producer Thom Monahan. Working in Sweden with drummer John Eriksson (of Peter Bjorn and John), in L.A. with Medicine guitarist Brad Laner, and closer to home in Brooklyn, the sound Tatum gets on Life of Pause is rich and luxurious.
Under the alias of Wild Nothing, Jack Tatum forges worlds of his own making. His music is a shimmering and ethereal escape for whenever the day-to-day can seem too weary. Both bright and blissful, Wild Nothing present a disorientating venture to dizzy heights, a daydream for the most monotonous of times. ‘Life Of Pause’ is a departure from expectation.
After creating two critically acclaimed albums as Wild Nothing, it would be reasonable to assume that Jack Tatum would be a satisfied man. There are certainly plenty of artists out there who would gladly swap places with him in an instant if they had the chance. But in the months following the release of Wild Nothing’s second LP, 2012’s Nocturne, the Brooklyn-based musician suggested that the record was missing something.
There have been no drastic leaps thus far along the creative path of Jack Tatum’s Wild Nothing, and organic creative growth has suited him. Recorded in Sweden, Los Angeles and Brooklyn with a strong ensemble cast that included three different drummers and two different saxophonists, Life of Pause might have provided an opportune moment to veer left off course into the unknown, but the album doesn’t chase after new horizons so much as it absorbs their reflection into Wild Nothing’s fondly familiar dream pop bubble. Wild Nothing’s bedroom origins naturally shaped their debut Gemini, but even after a couple of years of work and well-earned attention were parlayed into the wider-screen sophomore studio album, Nocturne stunned but didn’t shock.
Empty Estate, the previous Wild Nothing release, found Jack Tatum pulling in influences from Bowie’s Berlin-era, with open, ambient pieces slipped between conventional songs coloured simply with thumping rhythms, pliable bass licks and twinkling synth arpeggios. From the opening intro of Reichpop, Life of Pause feels like a natural progression; here the experiments of that earlier EP have been teased into clearer, tempered shapes, bringing the sound out of Jack’s bedroom and apparently to Stockholm, where it was produced. Japanese Alice might be reminiscent of Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, while there are hints of Ducktails on A Woman’s Wisdom, but neither of Tatum’s contemporaries have written something as full-on as first single To Know You.
Counterintuitive as it may seem, Life of Pause, Jack Tatum's third full-length as Wild Nothing, is a work that makes quite a fuss over sounding less fussy than the records that preceded it. Perhaps sensing that he'd reached an absolute dream pop peak with 2012's immaculately produced and composed Nocturne, Tatum has begun struggling against his perfectionist instincts, resulting in an album that's willfully rough-hewn, scattered, and label-resistant. .
With each release, the ambition of Wild Nothing (brainchild of eighties-pop obsessive Jack Tatum) has grown accordingly more grandiose. On Life of Pause, Tatum continues to stray from the C86 and shoegaze influences that were so heavily prevalent on his debut record, Gemini — with somewhat mixed results. What finesse and polish Gemini lacked was often made up for with emotional immediacy, with lyrical climaxes that evoked the heartbreak of unrequited love (case in point: the unrelenting chorus of Chinatown, or the wistful melody of Our Composition Book) Here, the singer-songwriter seems to be running into the opposite problem, intentionally subverting his natural inclination toward melody to produce an intellectually-striking record.
Most dream-pop bands have never had much of a reputation for occupying the more ambitious corners of the indie market, and that’s usually for good reason. Whether it’s a half-stoned spring picnic or just a stare at your bedroom ceiling, you’re going to want to reach for something unobtrusive and, well, dreamlike — music that will envelop you like Mark Renton into so much red carpet. As Wild Nothing, Jack Tatum has been helping soundtrack these kind of moments for the past half-decade, offering a classic songwriter-oriented take on a familiarly hazed-and-dazed sound.
Jack Tatum’s bedroom pop project Wild Nothing first took off in 2010, a year in which “bedroom” — a pretty closed-ended word with no apparent room for interpretations — somehow took on a million new connotations in pop music. But those connotations have nothing to do with Tatum; Gemini, his debut album from that year, stood on its own and was a promising glimpse of a talent who knew how to transcribe his dreams into sound through keys and reverb — especially for a record created entirely by a staff of one. Then, on his 2012 follow-up Nocturne, Tatum moved confidently towards executing.
On the occasion of Wild Nothing's third full-length, Life of Pause, it feels appropriate to circle back to the record that thrust Jack Tatum's college project into the spotlight. 2010 saw hugely successful shoegaze/dream pop revival records like Beach House's Teen Dream, Beach Fossils' self-titled debut, No Joy's Ghost Blonde, and the Radio Dept.'s Clinging to a Scheme. The year before, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart loudly tore into the C86 revival, declaring "This Love Is Fucking Right!" Emotions were strong, guitars were soft and fuzzy, and synths were sugary.
Wild Nothing’s third full-length, Life of Pause, has the developmental, purposeful, and stylistic characteristics that places it firmly in a historical context typified by many releases of its ilk. Indeed, there’s a familiar narrative wherein many songwriters that have a “hit” first album go on to record a difficult life-or-death second, and continue on with a third release primarily encouraged by the results of the latter, with a creative need to experiment, branch out in new directions, and change their game. Of course, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and still other times, time really is needed (more so than usual) to properly assign a nonetheless always-dynamic context.
Spacey vocals low in the mix and a slowed-heartrate pace mean much of the third album by Jack Tatum’s indie outfit feels like a half-remembered dream. But at least some of the deja vu stems from a feeling that you really have heard these sounds before, albeit in sharper focus. Swilling around in the reverb, allied by a choir of sunshine guitars, is the sound of everything indie ever, from Postcard to post-Britpop.
Life of Synth may have been a more apt title for Wild Nothing’s third record, cultivated as it is around layers of woozy electronic timbres. Nowhere is this better delineated than on opening track Reichpop, an energising, effervescent jumble that circumvents its stern title with layers of drums, marimba and a merry multitude of synth-produced pops, whirrs and bubbles. It’s a statement of intent from Wild Nothing’s architect, singer-songwriter and Virginia native Jack Tatum, who lead with the group’s guitar-pop debut Gemini before sophomore album Nocturne saw the outfit evolve towards a more sophisticated, intricate sound.
Barcelona, May 2013. I’m sat backstage at the Primavera Sound festival with fellow DiS scribe Dom Gourlay and Jack Tatum, the 20-something Brooklynite who is, effectively, Wild Nothing. 'I’m not just trying to ape New Order for the rest of my life,' says Tatum. Dom and I quickly glance at each other: it’s an awkward moment as, while we’re both fans, we’d noted the near-painful similarities between the two during the band’s preceding set.
‘Life Of Pause’ revives that threat, and even a casual listen reveals screaming differences from Tatum’s past. Opener ‘Reichpop’ begins as a wave of orchestral instrumentation and marimba and mutates into a bassy mash of keyboard and frazzled guitar, saxophone lurks in the punchy ‘Lady Blue’ and there’s a zapping synth triggered throughout six-minute Deerhunter-like finale ‘Love Underneath My Thumb’.Digging deeper reveals Tatum’s two key tools. Firstly, bass: his four-string thrums from every track.
On the strength of his sharp songwriting, Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum has floated above the derivative cloudlings dotting the skyscape of contemporary dream pop. His effortless melodies and hooks continue to set him apart on this third album, which absorbs musical references such as Paul Simon, Philly soul and R&B – in addition to the usual shoegaze and easy-breezy beautiful 80s pop rock – without pushing him too far from his core jangle-pop aesthetic. The title Life Of Pause is an apt one.
On Life of Pause, Wild Nothing (real name Jack Tatum) traces the classic arc of impending schism, inevitable break up, wallowing, and subsequent euphoria at the eventual discovery that the rest of the world has continued to turn despite your romantic troubles. It’s a well ploughed furrow for material, in fact it’s probably the cornerstone upon which most modern pop music is built on, so it might seem a strangely well trodden topic for Tatum to immerse himself in given that he’s built a reputation for slightly left-field romantic ambiguity over his previous two albums. Breakthrough track "Chinatown" was undoubtedly catchy, but it was harder to know what he meant by "we’re not happy ‘til we’re running away, clouds in your eyes", and Nocturne’s centrepiece "Paradise" seemed just as open to interpretation.
Amidst Wild Nothing's pessimistic synth catalog, Life of Pause births a sunny jaunt gleaming with footloose disco and ebullient, funk-glossed pop. Rising out of a bedroom shoegaze revival, Virginian Jack Tatum's 2010 debut Gemini and sophomore Nocturne two years later remain solitary swashes of moody guitars and sulky introspection. Life of Pause loses these moments in favor of lush waves of warm electronics and buoyant soul that coalesce into Neon Glo flourishes.
THERE’S THIS MOMENT on Wild Nothing’s 2013 EP Empty Estate, when you witness Jack Tatum transition almost invisibly from an unnerving Pinback impersonation into the airy, atmospheric choral breakdown he integrates so often into today’s version of Wild Nothing. This moment is 50 seconds into “Ocean Repeating (Big-eyed Girl)”, and as it turns out, it has come to represent something much grander of Tatum’s music: the element of sounding just a little bit better than the industry standard. Let’s back up, because I want to clarify that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.