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Despite having two critically acclaimed full-length LPs and two equally celebrated official EPs under his belt, Wild Nothing's Jack Tatum remains one of the most underrated songwriters of this decade. 2010's Gemini was a slinky, homespun homage to guitar-pop of the 1980s, while 2012's Nocturne took the same formula and beautifully transformed it into, to borrow the common description, a widescreen work of art. 'Paradise,' which conjured up shimmering memories of Robert Smith, New Order and Tears For Fears, was easily one of the best songs of 2012. Still, in assessments of the best songwriters of the past several years, Tatum has managed to fly under the radar.
Tatum's organic evolution as a songwriter continues on his third LP, Life of Pause, which features him delving even further into the poppier side of his musical inclinations, pulling and absorbing material from the new wave and Britpop movements of the 80s with deft ease. It is as if Tatum has held the same paint palette since Gemini but is constantly smattering new colors on to boldly broaden his artistic expanses.
Having long worn his influences on his sleeve, Tatum opens the record with an ode to minimalist composer Steve Reich, on the wonderfully titled 'Reichpop,' a self-described attempt at blending Reich's minimalism with Tatum's dreamy new wave style. Hypnotic marimbas drive the song forward, as airy vocals dance around the tropical sounds. On an album so well structured and carefully sequenced, 'Reichpop' is a perfect opener.
Album highlight 'Lady Blue' showcases Tatum's continued mastering of open-to-the-listener lyricism as he serenades a shadowy figure of a woman, slinking elegantly from track to track through this record. "Will I find a way to make sense of the way that you love me?" he asks, "Will I find a way to repay you for all that you've done for me?" A brilliantly composed bass part caresses a zinging synthline, setting the stage for a fluttering chorus that would have made Let's Dance-era David Bowie envious.
Wild Nothing's music has always given listeners a sensation that feels something like falling in love. It is a skill that Tatum has mastered and honed in on, both in words and sounds. As a result, his lyrical and sonic preoccupation with the subject continues on Life of Pause. Songs like the sweet and sultry ode to female intuition 'A Woman's Wisdom,' the bold rocker 'Japanese AliceTV Queen' all deal with the otherworldly allure of love and its pains. It is familiar territory for Tatum's music, yet he still handles the material with a fragile, airy delicacy that puts him head and shoulders above many of his peers. Only his fellow dream poppers in Beach House hold a candle to his ability to convey the difficult-to-convey majesty of falling in love.
It is unlikely that Life of Pause will blow anyone out of the water. Tatum has restrained himself from indulging in wholesale reinvention, electing instead to carefully fine-tune his sound with each additional record in his catalogue. So while Life of Pause is unlikely to make a splash big enough to put his incredibly skilled work at the forefront of everyone's attention, those who have been already found themselves soaking in the majesties of Tatum's work will be quite pleased with what is store for them with this LP. And like the aforementioned Beach House, who have followed a similar evolutionary trajectory, a steady stream of new followers are likely to hop on board. Flashy records are always exciting, but the merits of a solidly constructed and alluringly dreamy album like Life of Pause should never be underestimated.
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