Album Review: Wild Nothing – ‘Life Of Pause’

Life Of PauseIt’s been six years since Jack Tatum’s melodic daydreams first escaped his bedroom on ‘Gemini‘, and after a three-year slumber Wild Nothing return with an aptly titled third album ‘Life Of Pause‘.

With each release, Tatum has subtly explored different sonic boundaries whilst sharpening his musical execution and artistic vision. The cozy solidarity of ‘Gemini’ was borne out of Tatum’s years spent in the college-town of Blacksburg, Virginia. Its bedroom budget offered a certain charm, but more impressively it didn’t hide, or hinder, the fact that Tatum’s songwriting was impeccable.

Nocturne‘ followed two years later and displayed a richer, more organic sound as the project took on more of a ‘band’ guise. Tatum continued to wander through genres, and what exactly Wild Nothing could “be”, on two mildly experimental EP releases. On ‘Life Of Pause’, Tatum continues to grow as an artist and musician as he dips his feet into glimmering neon glow of 80’s inspired synth-pop.

Much of Tatum’s songwriting on previous releases could be described as concise compositions, but on this third release he tweaks his approach. Simply said, ‘Life Of Pause’ is a dense record; nearly half the songs eclipse the five-minute mark, but importantly its a synth driven record. Graduating from his college guitar jangle, Tatum has moved towards glistening synths and spacious grooving rhythms.

A soothingly anxious marimba opens ‘Riechpop’ as a shuffling rhythm allows arcade synths and new wave inspired guitar lines to beam in and out. The production is smooth and undulating, Tatum’s work has never sounds as pristine nor as wide-eyed as it does here. These new sonic textures present a new purlieu for hiss pop melodies.

A fat, warped synth bass leads ‘Lady Blue’ into a bouncy groove as a smoky saxophone interlude dives into a playful synth slide, but it’s the catchy outro refrain, “I’d wait, can you wait forever girl?”, that seals the deal. ‘TV Queen’ sees Tatum navigating through the haze of romantic desolation as a creepy warped hook slithers through and wraps up your attention. Elsewhere, Tatum drops into a cosmic ethereal void on the bobbing and breathy ‘Alien‘, electrifying guitar leads giving the track a rocket fuel of bombast as it wanders out of orbit. Even more impressive are the krautrock Crayola synths that color first single ‘To Know You’.

Not all the tracks are defined by extensive synth use however. The symmetric cruising indie-pop of ‘Japanese Alice’ is driven by a post punk bass line and My Bloody Valentine inspired guitar squeals. Further diversifying the album’s flavor is the breezy and poppy ‘Adore‘ – led by a light acoustic guitar strum, it provides some relief from the thick and luminous synths.

As an album experience, ‘Life Of Pause’ details Tatum’s personal growth inside and out of romantic despondency. With its I love you, I love you not elusiveness, the sparkling, gloriously cheesy title-track might be the best pure pop single that he’s ever written, while the dazzling ‘A Woman’s Wisdom’ sounds like a modern Hall & Oates midnight slow-jam with its turnstile chorus and leisure piano strut. Lyrically, Tatum depicts the arresting allure of femininity whilst addressing his own personal shortcomings. “Deep down I’m selfish, I know it to be true”, he plainly states as he surrenders himself to the moment.

The metropolitan funk of ‘Whenever I’ may remind some of fellow (and former) one-man wrecking crew Chaz Bundck’s project Toro Y Moi with its angular funk riffs and reverbed keys, Tatum’s unapologetic lyrics, ‘And I thought you were good to me, and I thought you would be good for me, but I know what you are now,’ giving the relaxed music a potent emotional sting.

Halfway through ‘Riechpop’ Tatum sings, “And I learn to wait for my life” – it’s a sage piece of creative advice from an artist who has crafted a consistent but dynamic body of work over the course of his career. ‘Life Of Pause’ is a record inspired by observing both the minuscule and large changes in life during the steady constant movement of time. Things are always changing, whether we recognize the subtly of that change or not.

Just over the course of a half-decade, Wild Nothing have carved out a specific niche within the indie realm, yet Tatum has quietly developed as one of indie rock’s strongest artistic visionaries. With each subsequent release he has sharpened, built upon and expanded his artistic prose.

‘Life Of Pause’ is yet another outstanding document in craftsmanship and expression from an act whose journey has been mesmerizing to follow.

(Trey Tyler)

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