You’ve got to hand it to Jack Tatum here: Life of Pause, his third album under the Wild Nothing moniker, sounds confident. Where previous albums drenched themselves in the oh-so-trendy reverb and songwriting that smacked a bit of New Order, this album takes these roots and elevates them to new levels with only subtle tinkering. It should only make sense then that with this updated sound comes some of the best songs Wild Nothing has put out yet.
Take the album’s opener, “Reichpop”. It has a sound that Wild Nothing’s done before, and the song itself really isn’t anything groundbreaking, but the stellar production is what sets it apart. The guitar tone, while reminiscent of the sound heard on his previous album Nocturne, doesn’t feel overblown or claustrophobically weighted like it sometimes did on that album. Instead, it feels as if each instrument takes up its own space within the song, leaving more room for both the bubbling synthesizer notes that pop up later in the song, as well as the closed-in atmosphere, a welcome change from the reverb overuse of many other records within the genre.
This type of production really comes into play during Life of Pause’s biggest pop moments, easily one of the album’s most pleasurable aspects. The title track has the strongest hook and its production knows it; the synthesizers take the lead here and power through the big chorus with dreamy emotion, all while retaining their nuanced balance of power. The other pop-driven tracks feature this sort of perfect balance as well. “TV Queen” puts the synths into more of a backdrop against Tatum’s boisterous choral hook, but the flanged-out saxophone solo in the middle of the song, while brief, is a cathartic delight.
Even in the album’s deeper recesses, there are gems to be picked out. “Alien” is the haziest song, featuring reverberated drums and guitars that soar into one of the album’s heaviest moments, an unexpected but welcome detour in the epicenter of Life of Pause. “Adore” sounds ripped from the 60’s, complete with backing acoustic guitars and grooved out drums. While the synths that show up later are just a little bit detracting (and thus one of the very few detrimental production choices on the record), the song showcases Wild Nothing’s deft approach to songwriting.
However, this record’s low points are notable in their own right. Even though Tatum has put together some of his best material for Life of Pause, it also houses some of his worst. The internal flaw seems to be that the songwriting can quickly turn stale, a problem well documented all the way back to Wild Nothing’s debut record Gemini. Unfortunately, this time around the offending songs seem to be at their most grating, to the point where even the stellar production can’t it. “A Woman’s Wisdom” compounds pretty poor vocals on Tatum’s part with a flaccid hook that doesn’t go anywhere, while “Lady Blue” and “Japanese Alice”, while pleasant enough, can feel like retreads of past songs, and not necessarily the ones that stand tall in Tatum’s discography.
The lyrics teeter on blandness, a cardinal sin for synth pop outputs. The aforementioned “Alien”, while being a major highlight in terms of production and sound, contains verses featuring a repetition of the line “You make me feel like an alien,” one that feels uninspired as an offhand remark, much less the centerpiece of the song. Thankfully nothing else really sticks out as lowly unimaginative, but the rest of the lyricism does tend to blend into the background, acting as more of an instrument than anything. It’s an inoffensive display to creating music, but not necessarily an enticing addition.
It still isn’t enough reason to shy away from this record. Sure, a lot of it has its similarities with Tatum’s previous work, but that shouldn’t be considered a detriment. Maybe it’s an album made for the fans, those who’ll no doubt eat up every last morsel of indie pop goodness that Tatum delivers. Life of Pause is an exercise in perfection over progression, and with a sound like Wild Nothing’s, it’s certainly welcome.
– Brock S.