In preparing to write this review, I probably listened to this damn record 50 times. It was so easy to breeze right through, I would put it back on and proceed to zone out all but a few new moments that would happen to catch my ear. At first I chalked it up to dream pop in general, which I have faulted as agreeable but boring, not much more than a comfortable atmosphere deployed to keep intimidating outside forces out and fuzzy, reassuring thoughts in. This was part of the dichotomy of Gemini, Wild Nothing‘s first record from 2010. It sounded so much like all the dream pop buzz and noise that had already jaded me, yet I kept coming back to it for more. There were a couple others that were distinct enough to intrigue me —chiefly Radio Dept. along with, yes, Beach House (up until Bloom, that is) — but none that sounded so close to the source of my derision. I was confused.
Listening to an album so diligently, so repetitively is the only way to weed out dream pop albums that are unassuming and pleasant enough to stand passive interest. Most such albums are verified as just that, indie ear porn, so to speak, and I never listen to them again. But with Nocturne, it became increasingly apparent that Jack Tatum’s specialty is in textures. Beyond the effects needed to create an ethereal atmosphere, he gives his sounds a depth on a par with Broken Social Scene’s or Arcade Fire’s walls of sound. Naturally, these walls start with synths, but on top of that, there are effects, background vocals, acoustic rhythm guitars, sometimes strings, even more synths, and so on with the more typical characters — they all come and go throughout most tracks, harmonizing in an atmospheric sense and intertwining rhythmically to provide a rock solid base for listeners to stand on while their heads are off dreaming.
Tatum’s ability to take advantage of this is what subtly sets Wild Nothing apart. Take the chorus from the track “Heather”: with shimmering guitars and the most vivacious drumming of the entire record, to balance this, Tatum takes two measures at a time to deliver a steady, legato “Only Heather.” He turns that inside-out when he wants the lyrics to stand front and center, taking everything away but the omnipresent thumps of the drums and distant synths (see: “Paradise“). On “Disappear Always,” he even gets rid of everything (including synths) except the drums and a clean guitar, which are left to awkwardly fill the ethereal void ambitiously — to boot, if this track were mixed slightly differently, it would have all the makings of a Smiths classic.
It could be a testament to lackadaisical listening and prevalent media-Attention Deficit Disorder in the digital music era that it took me so many listens to realize this record had the depth and textures that warrant close listening. Granted, there are missteps here as well. “The Blue Dress” has way too much going on (some hard-mallet xylophones?), and the opener, “Shadow,” only serves to deflate anticipation and divert attention from the abrupt momentum that “Nocturne,” the title track, so adroitly provides next. It’s quite good, but it’s stereotypical dream pop. And that’s the point: This band is worth caring about because of the texture and depth they provide, which is a trademark of so many ’00s indie success. All that’s left is to shed the stale ornamentation for something that perks listeners’ ears right off the bat.
Stream: Wild Nothing – “Paradise”