It's no secret that a whole lot of indie pop music has been trending towards the 80s lately. And even though so many acts are so obviously influenced by the New Wave movement from that era, Wild Nothing's frontman Jack Tatum may be the only perpetrator to openly admit it. His 2010 debut Gemini
was straight-on John Hughes pop, shimmery shoegaze and all. It made us perk our ears to the oncoming trend; legitimized it through its success. It's hard to say that Wild Nothing came out of that success with any sort of mission besides making another album like Gemini
. The sophomore effort, Nocturne
, stays stuck in David Bowie and Robert Smith's 1980s -- which is a good and bad thing. At its best, Nocturne
is an enthralling dream-world of its own, fully developed and fun to be in. At its worst, it's just flat-out boring.
In the two years since Gemini
was released, Jack Tatum and Wild Nothing have surely grown up -- you can hear it in the arrangements. No longer a one-man band -- a guitar, bass, and drums outfit -- Wild Nothing is taking advantage of the newfound access to high production and contracted players. Many songs on Nocturne
start like a track on Gemini
but grow fuller by the second. The end of "Shadow" is illuminated by a strings section; "Through the Glass" has an acoustic guitar solo; the as-epic-as-possible "Paradise" has an impressive roster of moving parts. From song to song, this Wild Nothing album extends its previous aural boundaries with well-written, syncopated guitar licks and some seriously catchy hooks.
Tatum's vocals and what he's willing to do with them have also improved. It's still clear that he's most comfortable working on a low or airy register, but that doesn't keep him from taking a few chances. For example, he's almost completely falsetto on the title track "Nocturne" and dynamic on the charming "Counting Days."
As I said before, Nocturne
is at times truly a world of its own. Because Wild Nothing is so focused on a certain sound and because Tatum's lyrics are scant and mostly vapid, it's easy to get lost in this dreamy soundscape of glistening electric guitars, gurgling bass lines, and echoing snare drums. For awhile it's fun to throw on your imaginary legwarmers and do your best Molly Ringwald dance. Like in life, sometimes it's nice to get lost -- you can forget about your troubles, let yourself be transported, turn everything off. And then other times, you really just want to find your way back. About halfway through Nocturne
, this feeling kicks in.
It might not even be because of the quality of the songs -- taken singularly almost all of these tracks (save for "Rheya" and "The Blue Dress") are pretty good. Instead it might just be because they come second. Who knows, if this album were flipped I might be criticizing "Shadow" and "Midnight Song" instead. You can only stay in a dream -- let alone a new wave one -- for so long before you want to wake up.
I don't want to criticize Wild Nothing for staying the same -- a bunch of bands do it
. The trick is to throw in a few surprises to keep things fresh, or be so mind-crushingly good that it doesn't even matter. There's no need to go full OK Computer
every time, but there just needs to be enough originality to be distinguishable. Until that happens for Wild Nothing, Nocturne
may be better digested one song at a time, instead of all at once.