Alongside Neon Indian‘s Era Extraña and Washed Out‘s Within and Without, Wild Nothing’s 2010 debut Gemini was one of the pivotal records of the short-lived ‘chillwave’ scene, a US-based micro-genre created by a disparate group of young, male songwriter/producers who shared a love of ’80s synthesisers, dreamy, lo-fi soundscapes and escapist lyrics.
Chillwave has long since faded away to little more than an obscure footnote in 21st century musical history, but Wild Nothing (the performing name of Virginia native Jack Tatum) has continued to release increasingly polished, ambitious albums since his breakthrough at the start of this decade. His most recent effort, 2016’s Life Of Pause, expanded Tatum’s established fey indie-pop template by bringing in elements of soul, disco and stadium rock, delivering a beefed-up sound that felt brasher and more widescreen than his earlier work.
In contrast, Indigo feels like a transitional record from an artist unsure of whether to press on with a more radio-friendly sound or return to his gentler, hazier roots. Every note and mood is clearly meticulously planned and clinically executed, yet this makes the music feel rather hollow and artificial, lacking both the starry-eyed freshman warmth of Gemini and the confident bombast of Life Of Pause. Genuine hooks are also few and far between, although opener Letting Go gets things off to a good start with its soaring guitars, propulsive rhythms and simple, strutting chorus.
Tatum claims to have been influenced by Roxy Music, Kate Bush and Fleetwood Mac while writing the songs for Indigo, but often it’s the ghosts of other notable acts of the past that loom largest. For example, there are echoes of The Cure‘s gloom-goth period on slower, murkier tracks like Shallow Water and The Closest Thing To Living, or Colour Of Spring-era Talk Talk on slow-burning closer Bend.
In particular, Wheel Of Misfortune – comfortably the best song here – perfectly replicates the quirkily elegant art rock of Steve McQueen-era Prefab Sprout, even down to the squelchy Thomas Dolby synths and wistful Paddy McAloon vocal. This highlight arguably sums up the limitations of Indigo – when it gets the dynamics right, it’s undoubtedly a work of considerable skill, but it’s hard to escape the sense that what we’re hearing is essentially a well-crafted pastiche of other artists, rather something truly memorable in its own right.