Wild Nothing – ‘Life Of Pause’

'Life Of Pause' is a fine return to form for Jack Tatum's once hyped project

Have you ever seen a police mugshot of Jack Tatum? Or read about him sticking a drumstick up his backside? Not likely. You may not even know his name. The mild-mannered man behind Wild Nothing just isn’t notorious in the same way as his quasi-celebrity Captured Tracks labelmates, DIIV frontman Zachary Cole Smith (mugshot) or Mac DeMarco (drumstick).

This is hardly surprising: Wild Nothing’s insular, self-recorded dream-rock often seems precision-engineered to veil its maker in anonymity, layering cloudy guitars over lyrics used for melody rather than meaning. But in the three years since the underwhelming ‘Empty Estate’ EP his stock has fallen. Smith and DeMarco – as well as peers like Real Estate and The War On Drugs – have outstripped a man who, with cult-classic 2010 debut ‘Gemini’ and 2012’s equally brilliant ‘Nocturne’, threatened to become one of the finest American indie exports of his generation.

‘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. Even ‘TV Queen’, the most recognisably Tatum song here, features a bassline that – for Wild Nothing – is positively dirty. The jazzy R&B of ‘A Woman’s Wisdom’ and the thumping rhythm of highlight ‘To Know You’ are grimier still. His second agent of change is space, likely because the weight of sounds on ‘Life Of Pause’ demands it. Tatum, who usually plays everything himself, invited Peter, Bjorn and John drummer John Ericsson and Medicine guitarist Brad Laner to contribute in the studio. The instruments aren’t just given room to breathe, they’re allowed to luxuriate (see the crisp drums on the title-track and ‘Alien’ and the brass on the delightful ‘Wherever I’.) Even the noisy rush of ‘Japanese Alice’ feels measured and roomy.

Such confident, experimental songwriting points to a rebirth for Wild Nothing, and means ‘Life Of Pause’ can be considered alongside indie records like Tame Impala’s ‘Currents’ and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s ‘Multi-Love’. Both came out last year, signalling a shift in sound and a significant step forward for their makers. This record should do the same for Jack Tatum.

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