I’ve been smitten with Jack Tatum ever since I heard “Nocture” back in 2012. Such beauty and bittersweet melodies in that song. I knew right then that this Tatum fellow knew how to turn emotional dials with the magic that is music. He was also tapping into my childhood growing up in the early 80s. All those echos of pop radio from the Reagan-era were present on Wild Nothing’s Nocturne, which put me in a time machine every time I spun that record. Vocally Tatum was on-point. His vocals were there, but not as a lead instrument. They were more part of the overall mix. A ghostly melody hovering in the air. Another instrument, really. He never seemed to want to be upfront and in the spotlight. That record seemed like the creation of someone that loves the process as much as the result. And going back and listening to Gemini and The Golden Haze EP that came before I could hear the progression of a guy figuring out who the hell he was with every album. Throw in that wonderful curve ball, the quirky and arty Empty Estate EP from 2013, and it was clear Wild Nothing was a project constantly evolving and re-imagining itself.
Now we have Life of Pause, Wild Nothing’s newest musical affair. Once again Jack Tatum reinvents the band he started in a college dorm room, but not in the way you’d expect. Instead of turning away from the pop sensibilities and heading in a more obscure and arty direction, Tatum has embraced those pop aspects of his music and magnified them. Life of Pause is a rich, bright, and all-encompassing pop album that moves freely between both radio friendly and late night college rock.
Tatum’s musical inspirations run far and deep, which makes a Wild Nothing album something to behold. His newest opus opens with the rather breathtaking baroque pop of “Reichpop”, a nod to both the songs that keep you company on lonely drives at night and the legendary minimalist composer Steve Reich. Opening with the repetitive lines of marimba sounding much like Reich’s own “Music For 18 Musicians”, the track opens up into this lovely and warm pop confection. While Nocturne had those pop sensibilities down pat, there was the feeling of solitude; the vibe of being shut off from the outside world. “Reichpop” seems to have opened the windows and doors in Jack Tatum’s world and is letting the light in. “Lady Blue” sounds like an off-kilter b-side from Reach The Beach-era Fixx. “A Woman’s Wisdom” sounds to me like what John Lennon may have been dabbling in a year or two after Double Fantasy had the universe allowed it. Now I don’t know if Jack Tatum had been listening to Wire’s Chairs Missing during the writing process, but “Japanese Alice” really puts me in mind of their exquisite “Outdoor Miner”. This is the jangliest track I’ve heard from Wild Nothing and I would love to hear more. Title track “Life of Pause” is pure 80s pop perfection. Listening to this song, as well as the whole of Life of Pause, I’m reminded of early 80s David Bowie. Going back and revisiting those records(Let’s Dance, Tonight, and Never Let Me Down) after Bowie’s passing I was reminded of just how good those records were. Tatum does something similar in that he makes incredible pop music but doesn’t make it thin and tinny. He gives his music such depth and layers it perfectly. Is Life of Pause Wild Nothing’s Let’s Dance? It’s not totally off to say it is.
With a musical collaboration list that includes Peter Bjorn and John’s drummer John Eriksson and the best guitarist you’ve never heard of, Medicine’s Brad Laner, Life of Pause is sonically rich and densely complex for a pop record. Here is a pop record for people that don’t think they like pop. It’s also for people that love pop music and have never heard of Steve Reich. Jack Tatum keeps bridging those musical gaps, one tremendous album after another.