Step into Jack Tatum’s Wax Museum of Pop, and prepare to get nostalgic. Hard to believe that’s only a brilliant facsimile of Disintegration‘s aqueous guitar sound, isn’t it? But it’s true: Tatum, clearly a distinguished pop scholar, has crafted an album that not only sounds like but stands up to the best sounds of the Fey White Boy Golden Age (ca. 1983-1991). On his full-length debut as Wild Nothing, Gemini, Tatum capitalizes on three decades of developments in mopey, twinkly indie rock to produce a startlingly fresh record.
Lyrically, Tatum gets away with the sort of lines excusable only in the context of perfect pop music (i.e. the diary-stained “Driving to nowhere, I’m slipping through a tunnel of light”). But if you’re straining to hear the lyrics over all that reverb, you’re missing the point: Gemini isn’t meant to be listened to, it’s meant to get lost in. When Tatum’s barely-there voice drops into the mix after the pitch-perfect Johnny Marr fade-in of “Our Composition Book,” it’s hard not to briefly miss Morrissey’s bombastic pipes. But in Tatum’s universe (and it really is, like on any truly great debut, a fully formed universe we’re introduced to here), the vocals are just as important as any of the instruments; it’s all about the atmosphere.
It is for that reason that Wild Nothing will inevitably be lumped in with chillwave acts like Memory Tapes and, especially, Small Black. Yet Tatum’s method has much more in common with a band like the Olivia Tremor Control; like OTC, Tatum replicates the sounds of his heroes (in his case, bands like My Bloody Valentine and the Cure) in an effort to make richer his own unique vision of pop history. Which is why a song like “O, Lilac,” with its Field Mice-y strums, immediately invokes in the listener a sort of pleasant déjà vu.
That is, if said listener chooses to stick around past the first listen, as Gemini is by no means an instantly gratifying record. Unlike fellow ’80s-indie-pop necrophiliacs the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Tatum buries his strong hooks under layers of hazy reverb. The more you listen, though, the more the hidden, dynamic shifts on songs like “Summer Holiday” and “O, Lilac” become noticeable. Which is why, when Tatum mutters a line like “fuck being perfect,” it comes off as knowing irony: There’s nary a misplaced synth or guitar line on the entire record, and it’s well worth spending the time getting to know each and every one of them.