Wild Nothing Life of Pause

[Captured Tracks; 2016]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: 80s avant-pop
Others: Talking Heads, The The, Orange Juice, Talk Talk, Bowie…

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. That said, Life of Pause is certainly different on an aesthetic level, acting as a departure from the indie/dream/goth pop 80s concoction many of us have come to love and expect from Wild Nothing.

This should have been expected to happen sooner or later, as songwriter Jack Tatum has only seen his project grow in scale from impressive bedroom sketches, to full-lengths produced on a computer, to the massively successful live, full-band-recorded, and excellent Nocturne of 2012 and beyond (festivals, music videos, feature articles, etc.). Perhaps most telling of all might be the colorful, vibrant collection of songs released in 2013 under the title of Empty Estate, an EP that positioned itself more on the open, arty new wave side of the spectrum than on the austere post-punk gloom it followed. While it clashed in sound and feeling with previous material back then, it now retrospectively articulates Tatum’s changing values and tastes, and perhaps marked a creative turning point.

The shock of the new becomes immediately apparent on opener “Reichpop,” which will be the most richly complex-sounding composition anyone may have heard from Wild Nothing thus far — multilayered, sprawling, and more fixated on a sense of wonder than on bittersweet woe. Much like in Estate, Tatum’s chosen influences here now belong more to the avant-pop vanguard like Bowie, Talking Heads, and Orange Juice than to the trauma drama of The Cure, The Wake, or The Field Mice. This is evident on the following songs “Lady Blue” and “Japanese Alice,” where gloomy atmosphere-inspired, semi-minimalist pop has given way to baroque orchestral pop. Still, something of the past is also felt on songs like “Alien,” the title track, and the dreamy guitar echoes of “To Know You,” as well as through like-minded sentiments expressed in Tatum’s lyrics, as found on the refrain in “Life of Pause”: “How can we want love?/ How can we want love?/Tell me how.”

While Life of Pause appears to lack any songs with the lasting impact of tracks like “Chinatown,” “Only Heather,” “Paradise,” or even the sublimely beautiful “Golden Haze” — well-written works that exhibited a naïve clarity in purpose — it’s certainly a grower. Tatum has shown time and again that he is a gifted songwriter with an impeccable ear for picking up genre and melody, and although he aggressively tries things out and experiments throughout this sort of work-in-progress with slightly-better-than-mixed results, his talent for writing and composition is also what almost fully redeems it. Given time, perhaps we’ll discover that the Wild Nothing we knew is still in here, hidden, buried underneath new layers and elements of sounds, textures, writing, and production. And perhaps next time we won’t have to look so hard for it. But then again, where’s the fun in that?

Links: Wild Nothing - Captured Tracks

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