Jack Tatum’s bedroom pop project Wild Nothing first took off in 2010, a year in which “bedroom” — a pretty closed-ended word with no apparent room for interpretations — somehow took on a million new connotations in pop music. But those connotations have nothing to do with Tatum; Gemini, his debut album from that year, stood on its own and was a promising glimpse of a talent who knew how to transcribe his dreams into sound through keys and reverb — especially for a record created entirely by a staff of one.
Then, on his 2012 follow-up Nocturne, Tatum moved confidently towards executing. Delegating some of the workload upon some new faces (including a producer in Nicolas Vernhes and a live drummer in Jeff Curtain), Tatum pulled off a realization of the idea first set into motion on Gemini. Nocturne stuck to a simple but vibrant color palette, and while you could describe the songs of both these first two records in many ways that imply thoughtfulness, “overcooked” was never one. Wild Nothing was, by this point, a vehicle that clearly had little need for second-guessing, and did so sparingly. Even if the ideas weren’t always the freshest and the inspirations came from decades past, he never lacked for confident texturing and songwriting.
On his first record since Nocturne, Life of Pause, Tatum’s songs don’t always step so logically. Here, he plays around with structures that are a little weirder, a little less obvious, and in turn, don’t bring the same inherent aspirations of instantly embedding themselves into the brain — simply put, there are fewer moments that stick. This presents a new two-sided coin; while Life of Pause won’t let you settle in and get comfortable so easily, it also doesn’t present the most convincing case that it can reward the patience it requests. At best, though, he stretches that straight-ahead magic into charming forms, as on the driving “To Know You” and the warm puff of “Japanese Alice”.
However, Wild Nothing are, maybe for the first time, not always sweet on the ears here. Tatum’s words, likewise, dive as deeply as ever into intimacy, testing a capacity for protection from the inevitable onslaughts of dark thoughts. “I don’t believe in heaven/ But maybe you can be my church,” he sings on “A Woman’s Wisdom”, a bleary, dim sloucher that’s quantifiably more gray compared to the vibrancies of Nocturne. Life of Pause also features a new outside hand on production for the second straight time: This time Thom Monahan handles the boards, a producer who has many more surfaces to polish here, as Tatum draws from an expanded tool kit of, at various points, xylophones, saxophone, expanded percussion, and countless new synth voices. When swimming together, they sound complex, and occasionally overcomplicated.
Luckily, though, Tatum has laid out a pattern of twos, by which he expanded on ideas from his debut to gel onto a sophomore release. Like Gemini was to Nocturne, Life of Pause looks to be the rough draft of a new idea to be. Tatum still shows promise that he can combine that adventurous spirit and more fully encapsulating execution. Here’s hoping he follows through on that pattern and promise fully on a future outing.
Essential Tracks: “Japanese Alice”, “To Know You”