Some bands seem to stick to what they know, repeating the formula of a successful debut to diminishing returns across second and third ventures, and sometimes beyond, if anyone’s still listening. Then there are those who find a Thing and continue to do their Thing, refining the recipe here and there, picking a couple of new ideas from one album to the next but essentially continuing to plough the same furrow, but do it so consistently well that each time we hear from them, it’s is as much of a pleasure as the first. These two things might be similar, but there’s a world of difference. Bit unfair? That’s life.
Wild Nothing, the decade-old dream pop project of Virginian Jack Tatum, definitely fall into the latter camp. Since the reverb-heavy, slickly melancholic 80s-inflected pop of debut ‘Gemini’ in 2010, we’ve had the slick, reverb-heavy 80s-inflected melancholia of Nocturnes (2012), and then 2016’s Life of Pause, a melancholic, slick… you get the idea there. This time, the series of tweaks that led from the bedroom-produced, drum machine-enabled ‘Gemini’, all the way to the more instrumentally varied, almost soulful orchestrations of ‘Life of Pause’, have added up to the richest, most polished set Tatum’s produced to date.
It’s typically Wild Nothing, and typically so much more than the sum of its various influences. “I write songs because I really care about the way instruments work together,” Tatum says, “and … about being able to think about things as a whole, sonically”. This much is obvious. There’s the chiming guitars and urgent imploring (“I wanna be happier now/I wanna be more than closed”) of the opening ‘Letting Go’. Or the disjointedly funky, blissed out Duran/Tears For Fears-isms of ‘Partners In Motion’, words dripping with envy (“How is your new life swiping through headlines?/How do you find the time?) or ‘Wheel of Misfortune’, a bitter but sweetly smooth sophisti-pop.
Tatum’s crestfallen croon cuts through the Marr-ish jangle and waves of backing vocals on ‘Shallow Water’, while an almost buoyant ‘Through Windows’ skips along on saxophone and cool, phased guitars. If you’re a fan, Tatum barely puts a foot wrong here - ‘...Windows’ and the closing ‘Bend' are as good as anything we’ve heard before - while others can rest assured that if they like the sound of this, there’s plenty more like it.