Wild Nothing: Life Of Pause

Wild Nothing have made a name for themselves with the sweet, retro sounds of C86 pop. Are they having trouble moving beyond it?

Jack Tatum’s Wild Nothing are nothing if not consistent performers. Over the course of three full-lengths and two EPs, Tatum and co. have teased out a pop sensibility that started somewhere in the dreamy end of C86 inspired indie-pop and ended up...in roughly the same place.

You might accuse Wild Nothing of being complacent, but sounding like C86 gives you a lot to work with: ‘60s pop-revival, power-pop, jangle, ‘80’s synth-pop; and that’s a whole lot more than is available to bands following the summery, sugary template of indie-pop in the last few years.

So, Wild Nothing started with more depth than most, bringing a diversity to their first two albums, but never forgetting to milk it for sweet, dreamy pop. If there is a trajectory to their development it might be found in the increasing polish they’ve brought to their sound. Yeah, maybe, but it’s subtle, hardly the kind of Eric Carmen wannabe disaster that Twin Shadow turned into when he got his ‘80’s superstar on.

On the new record the most obvious developments are, not really obvious at all, just the usual, subtle stylistic maneuvers. It seems like Tatum wants to emphasise the differences, because he takes the most obvious one, plonks it right at the beginning of the album and makes it a single. Just in case you were in danger of missing its shiny new schtick, it’s called Reich Pop, rather unsubtly inviting you to amaze at the xylophone loops whirling away at the base of the track in honour of every thinking indie person’s favourite composer, Steve Reich. However, these quickly get thrust into the background, in favour of a bouncy guitar pop. It’s quite upbeat, though Jack Tatum still sounds slightly sleepy and you’ll never part the band from their reverb. It’s as though Wild Nothing are channeling Illinois era Sufjan Stevens or wanted to have a go at being Owen Pallett for a day, but it’s a dalliance that lasts all of a song. Lady Blue is similarly upbeat, with a charming synth lead and a pop anthem that’s less gimmicky; even the woozy sax coda feels somehow appropriate.

A Woman’s Wisdom sounds a bit like Prince played at half-speed, all slow funk and soul. Japanese Alice is a serious contrast, coming as close to a pumping shoegaze as possible without actually being shoegaze, bringing the same blend of speed, power and haze as School Of Seven Bells.

The energy keeps building into the album’s title track, taking a big, naff synth melody in the chorus and shooting for a pop anthem. The verses by contrast shrug off the epic pop pretensions for a ‘60’s pop sensibility and the song glories in an endearingly naive celebration of love. Alien takes a sedate crooner and nearly drowns it in reverb, when I think it would’ve played better by itself. It’s like slow dancing in fog: a little odd and probably not a good idea.

To Know You is, wait for it, full of reverb, but here it’s a little more successfully blurring the line between big power-pop and shoegaze, even more insistently than on Japanese Alice. Just about the biggest number on the record, it’s not a bad choice for a single, although it may not have needed all six minutes of its runtime. Belle & Sebastian sound like they’re waltzing with Bacharach in an occasionally, weirdly psychedelic funfair on Adore. It’s another song that might have been better if the band had been brave enough not to hide it in reverb.

Whenever I, despite being one of the most low-key on the record is genuinely different: taking in slow funk and psychedelia to produce something that sounds like a stylish fragment of Madchester.

Album closer, Love Underneath My Thumb is, kinda the opposite, throwing in a lot of arty frippery into a great big, sunny, psychedelic melt. I feel a bit weary at the end of it, which is kinda the way the record makes me a feel as a whole. Life Of Pause is as full of charming pop songs and clever little stylistic conceits as Wild Nothing usually are. Actually, more so: they really give their pop chops a run for their money. At the same time, they’re not prepared to let go of any of that dreamy reverb that is their first love. It makes songs blend blurrily together and is overbearing too. Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that it’s best taken in small doses, where its delights -and they are genuine delights- don’t become an overindulgence. Perhaps Wild Nothing really are in need of a new trajectory. Life Of Pause, for all its subtle stylistic variations seems desperate to be more. The result is that innovation is blotted out by intensity,

- Chris Cobcroft. 

Album Details

Album Title: Life Of Pause
Artist: Wild Nothing
Record Label: (Captured Tracks / Remote Control)