Music Reviews
Life of Pause

Wild Nothing Life of Pause

(Captured Tracks) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

With each release, the ambition of Wild Nothing (brainchild of eighties-pop obsessive Jack Tatum) has grown accordingly more grandiose. On Life of Pause, Tatum continues to stray from the C86 and shoegaze influences that were so heavily prevalent on his debut record, Gemini — with somewhat mixed results. What finesse and polish Gemini lacked was often made up for with emotional immediacy, with lyrical climaxes that evoked the heartbreak of unrequited love (case in point: the unrelenting chorus of Chinatown, or the wistful melody of Our Composition Book) Here, the singer-songwriter seems to be running into the opposite problem, intentionally subverting his natural inclination toward melody to produce an intellectually-striking record. This is where it gets strange. Is Tatum over-thinking the production and layering of his music, or is he intentionally attempting to follow his first instincts to their logical conclusion, without second-guessing himself? Regardless of his impetus, the album at once feels labored-over and rushed. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t a few clear successes here. Life of Pause is somewhat of an extension of the aesthetic Tatum forged in his Empty Estate EP— a seven-song collection that toyed with influences spanning from artpop to ambient. The ideas that worked within that EP are naturally more triumphant on Life of Pause. The fractured guitar jabs and molasses-thick synths that permeated the track Ocean Repeating (Big-Eyed Girl) find a better home on Life of Pause’s title track, and the slow burn of The Body of Rainfall lays the groundwork for the enticing crescendo that concludes Adore. But the repetitive and referential faults of Empty Estate track Ride are also amplified ad nauseam throughout the six-minute jam, To Know You. The bass-driven, two-chord excursion, while crafted with production swagger, never comes to a recognizable climax as a result. And with a vocal melody almost entirely torn out of Talk Talk’s It’s My Life, as well as a grinding synth taken straight out of The Cars’ playbook, its difficult to justify the track’s excessive duration. What Life of Pause is particularly missing however, is a masterful artpop track like A Dancing Shell — a dream-funk dance tune which simultaneously balanced all of Tatum’s influences, even while maintaining the ineffable passion that Gemini originally had. None of the songs on Life of Pause coalesce into this balance, but a few come close.

Reichpop, a cross between Peter Gabriel and Steve Reich, is the clear standout on the album. Lurches of distant, hollowed-out guitar loops introduce the track before a series of intersecting vibraphone and xylophone melodies take hold. Tatum contrasts this lush bed of harmonics with a playful rhythm section and tight, staccato chords. The result is genuinely cathartic, and might stand as Tatum’s most interesting work to date. Japanese Alice, while largely in debt to My Bloody Valentine, manages to catch the blissful twee of their early work. Tatum adds in the poetic lyrics, "Tokyo calling, masked in rain / Frozen within me, frozen forever / The wax museum, uncanny valley,” which evokes the ability to freeze a moment in time — with our memories, or otherwise.

Life of Pause still lacks something. It’s not quite inspiration, or an emotional center. You leave this record thinking about how complex and refined it is, or maybe about how much Jack Tatum has grown as a songwriter. But at the end of the day, the album doesn’t embed itself into your daily life in the way Nocturne or Gemini did. The yearning for some sort of redemption or reconciliation that permeated those albums is almost completely excised for an approach that is more jubilant and ambitious. Given Tatum’s talent, Life of Pause will not likely be the start of a creative decline for Wild Nothing. Just a jumping-off point — a rocky transition into something far greater.