Album Review: Wild Nothing – Nocturne
“You wanna know me, / well what’s there to know?” Jack Tatum, the mastermind behind the one-man dream pop sensation, Wild Nothing, asks in the eponymous song of his latest album, Nocturne.
The 1980’s were not usually heralded as one of the best decades in music, instead they set the foundations for many modern bands trying to reinterpret and reinvent pop rock. Borrowing heavily from 80’s synth pop, Tatum believes his music is “what pop music used to be or even what pop music would be in [his] ideal world.” With this vision in mind, Tatum sets out to create music that perfectly fits into his genre of music, dream pop. It is evident that the mixture of hazy vocals, flowing guitar rifts, and washed-out synths in Tatum’s first two albums that he was still trying to explore and experiment with his ideal sound. Following his highly popular first album, Gemini, and the follow-up EP, Golden Haze, Tatum returns with a powerful sophomore album that really shows off his growth and maturity as a musician.
In a previous interview with Pitchfork.com, Tatum has stated that he was “definitely more interested in mood” over anything else in his music. This is apparent in his new album wherein he paints the same mood as his previous albums, but in a much higher quality that it breathes new vitality in the dream-pop community. Previously recording from his dorm in college, Tatum’s older albums conveyed a feeling of charming naiveté in the ramshackle drum machines he used and the insistent strumming of guitars. Now equipped with a live band, and much better synthesizers and microphones, the new album is much more refined and polished, filled with glistening guitar rifts and a careful patchwork of synth-pop rhythms. Tatum is able to give a more luxurious listening experience without being too flashy or boisterous.
Tatum kicks off the album with “Shadow” as it hooks the audience in with it’s driving beat that gives it a catchy feeling of immediacy. The song also goes through many asides between the lyrical verses to let the guitars and strings swoon their listeners with their smooth, hazy, and celestial melodies and harmonies. Immediately following this beautiful piece is “Midnight Song”, with its softer tone and occasional touches of the same brightness shown in “Shadow”. This piece, though not as upbeat and catchy as the first song helps to sets the stage for the album’s title song, “Nocturne.” Cleverly choosing “Nocturne” as the main point of the album, it is clear why Tatum chose this as the icon of his album. Nocturnes, songs that are usually inspired by the night, set the main theme for the album. “Nocturne’s” bouncing guitar rifts and synth-pop rhythms create a feeling of viewing small ripples and reflections in puddles on the ground, glistening with the light of the moon. Moreover, Tatum plays with the idea of exploring the joys and grief connected with love and how it is tied with the mysteriousness of the night. Finally, in the album’s longest song, “Paradise,” Tatum shows off what is probably the album’s best portrayal of his growth and maturity as a musician. With much more full-bodied sounds, the softer songs of the album become fleshier and much more layered with different voices. While Gemini relied on the extensive use of reverb to add levels of depth to its songs, Nocturne utilizes many more complex rhythms in conjunction with its multiple layers of sound to create a lush texture in the new songs. In “Paradise”, Tatum plays with a reverby disco beat as it cuts in and out with a glistening and growing ambient rift halfway through the song. The different cuts ebb and flow to create a fluid piece of music with many complex and conflicting melodies that mesh together to show how graceful Tatum is able to play with his medium of sound.
Many record labels and bands devote all of their time trying to mimic and continue the dreamy synth pop sounds of the era that Nocturne creates. Jack Tatum instead, works with the medium to create what he feels is his dream world of pop music. Nocturne seeks out to homogenize and streamline its sound, which seems inevitable in Tatum’s quest to perfect his dream pop sound, but it also sacrifices a bit in the diversity of his music. Don’t get me wrong, Nocturne is an excellent album that brings about a feeling of dreaminess and searching, but through the homogenous approach in creating this album, Tatum sacrifices the complexity and tension found in other less homogenous albums. Despite this small issue, Jack Tatum’s new album, Nocturne, makes his dream of creating a perfect dream pop sound a reality.