Upon first listen, Wild Nothing’s sophomore effort, Nocturne, sounds an awful lot like his 2010 debut, Gemini. This isn’t much of a shock, considering the genre of music that the young bedroom popper creates—it’s difficult to expound on hazy ‘80s new-wave revival—but after a few more spins, it is clear that Jack Tatum’s sound has progressed, though subtly.
Gemini was Tatum’s chance to prove to the world that though his music paid homage to the greats of two decades past, he was a sound craftsman and songsmith. He succeeded this goal tenfold, producing one of the most acclaimed albums of that year. With the pressure of a successful debut on his shoulders, Tatum strived to further perfect his pop technique. Where his first album emphasized synthesizers and reverbed, borderline maudlin lyricism, Nocturne’s focus is more on instrumentation (namely, the guitar) topped with sanguine, smooth vocals. These lo-fi pop gems have been polished, and the result is sparkling.
The album begins with its first single, “Shadow,” and the transition is immediately apparent. A peppy guitar riff sets the song off, accompanied by pounding percussion and grooving bass. Tatum’s voice comes in, and though still a bit wandering, it is confident. This track is more instrumentally centric than his earlier work as the vocals cut out completely and the song ends with a minute-and-a-half long instrumental outro. This trend continues with the twinkling “Midnight Song,” and complex, guitar-led title track. Tatum tries something new with the album’s second single, “Paradise.” Though the song begins with droning synth and galloping percussion, it features found sounds of seagulls chirping during a two-minute long instrumental break. This seemingly inane addition creates a safe, relaxing soundscape that entrances its listeners and takes them to this paradise the young musician sings of. The music continues for so long that it’s almost jarring when Tatum’s voice comes back, confessing “Dancer in the night, playing with my eyes, velvet tongue so sweet, say anything you like.”
Though the record encompasses so much sentiment and personality, Tatum’s influences still shine through in tracks like “Only Heather,” which channels The Cure’s guitar work and The Jesus And Mary Chain’s whimsical vocal melodies, and “The Blue Dress,” a song that could have been playing in coffee shops circa 1985. It’s the blend between the two that makes Wild Nothing so compelling.
This mix is emulated by Nocturne’s closing track, “Rheya.” The song begins with seemingly outdated, airy synth and chiming percussion, but as it slowly burns and Tatum’s vocals come in, you can feel his pain as he sings, “I still try to forget Rheya, as she cries at the ocean that gave her life. Touch me just one last time, I don’t want to remember this life.” It is hauntingly beautiful, and when the vocals cut out and the song drifts through warbling soundscapes that eventually fade, his words linger long after the needle stops.