After creating two critically acclaimed albums as Wild Nothing, it would be reasonable to assume that Jack Tatum would be a satisfied man. There are certainly plenty of artists out there who would gladly swap places with him in an instant if they had the chance. But in the months following the release of Wild Nothing’s second LP, 2012’s Nocturne, the Brooklyn-based musician suggested that the record was missing something.
Despite being proud of the collection of songs he had put together, Tatum felt the whole process behind Nocturne had been too prolonged and exhaustive, resulting in an album that he felt was “mechanical”. This realisation – which came while he toured Nocturne – prompted him to produce a new EP just nine months later, with Empty Estate enabling Tatum to be more playful with his sound.
This more free-flowing, organic approach to the creative process has subsequently had a significant impact on Wild Nothing’s latest offering, Life Of Pause. “I desperately wanted for this to be the kind of record that would displace me,” Tatum said, when talking about his ambitions for the new record. “I’m terrified by the idea of being any one thing, or being of any one genre.” It is a sentiment that becomes clearer during the album’s 50-minute runtime.
Opener Reichpop provides the first indication of Wild Nothing’s new direction, with its multiple layers creating a tropical backdrop to Tatum’s airy vocals, which sound remarkably similar to the husky tones of Bombay Bicycle Club frontman Jack Steadman. It may not be a radical transformation – the dream pop label could certainly still be attached – but the natural evolution of the track is evidence of the freedom Tatum allowed himself.
The same is true of Lady Blue, where the underlying synths and repeated ‘ooohs’ give it a summery, cool swagger, before it breaks down into an infectious hook as Tatum sings “Can you wait for ever girl?”. The title track is also wrapped in a cloak of haze as the prominent synths reach their peak on yet another catchy chorus (“How can we want love?”), while the funky bassline works seamlessly in the background.
Tatum is not afraid to be bold on Life Of Pause, either, with Japanese Alice delivering arguably Wild Nothing’s rockiest offering to date. It bursts straight into life and continues to rumble along at a driving pace, while Tatum’s laidback musings are interwoven effortlessly. Then there’s To Know You, which is another hazy rocker that gives Life Of Pause some real bite around the halfway mark thanks to its hefty, reverberating riff.
Elsewhere, the dreamy atmospherics make a welcome return on the epic Alien, where the searching synths are joined by a meaty guitar hook in the middle, while the soulful A Woman’s Wisdom is a perfect example of Tatum’s willingness to push his sound into new areas. TV Queen maintains the momentum as Life Of Pause reaches the home straight, achieving the sort of simple pop melody Tatum is so keen on.
For an album that tries so much, it is quite remarkable how consistently high the level is throughout. Even the weaker moments – like the slightly forgettable, acoustic meanderings of Adore – still sound very assured and impressively executed. Take Whenever I, which is by no means an album highlight, but nevertheless delivers plenty of enjoyment with its subtle riffs and almost jazz-influenced soundscape.
Ultimately, Life Of Pause sounds like Tatum is having fun with his craft. Those who loved his first two records will still recognise this version of Wild Nothing, but as closer Love Underneath My Thumb demonstrates, Tatum is no one-trick pony. Compared to the low-key and at times melancholic Nocturne, Life Of Pause is a rich and expansive step up that balances the old and the new perfectly to create Wild Nothing’s best album yet.