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August 30, 2012

Album Review: Wild Nothing ‘Nocturne’

by @thoughtontracks

Back in college, I took a class on Bob Marley that was really more of a socioeconomic look into the world of Jamaican culture.  As the class went on, a major focus shifted to Bob’s song “Rat Race” and it’s broader meaning on a macro scale.  The imagery certainly fits for any culture, as really, what are we each doing every single day besides running around the maze of life ever searching for some cheddar – or in a more literal sense, happiness and bliss.  Music, well at least the albums I consider my favorites, have always provided a way to remove my soul from the maze that is life, allowing me to sit above and think about the journey, gain some clarity, and then re-enter to chase endlessly once again.  A few albums every year gain a place on the mantle of my sanity, and they tend to remain permanent residents.  I listen to a lot of albums once, but I find that I don’t often listen to the same over and over again.  But the ones I do…now those are the special ones…the select few that truly matter.

Jack Tatum is Wild Nothing.  Wild Nothing is Jack Tatum.  Meet and greet because you are likely to stay awhile.  Coming about two years after Gemini, the band’s sophomore LP Nocturne represents, according to Jack in a fantastic interview with Stereogum, his first album in which he wrote music for an audience other than just himself.  And I must say, personally, that this is one of my favorite collection of songs that I’ve ever put my ears to.  And while I loved Gemini, this album represents a whole new appreciation for the man behind the music.

And when I say the man behind the music, I mean that in the most literal sense, because Tatum writes and plays all of the music on the album besides the drums.  No song shows this off more than the infectous “Shadow”, a thought provoking track that strikes just the right mix of strings, acoustic guitar, and vocals.  While all of Wild Nothing’s songs can take on a “chill vibe”, this one stands out amongst his previous work as being able to pull the listener in rather than allowing you to sink into the surrounding atmosphere.  The acoustic guitar drives the moment home, giving this song a true semblance of completeness.  The second track, “Midnight Song”, harnesses the spirit of Gemini with some relaxing guitar and an ending jam that shows the effect that performing live has had on Tatum’s music.  If this track were on his previous album, it would have stayed as a guitar solo closing rather than bringing multiple parts together for a jam session at the end.

The album’s namesake follows with what is perhaps the best song on this LP.  It fits into the overlapping themes of this album, namely the darker side of our interaction with others.  With a verse that says, “And I’m twisted / what can I say / your days are empty / and my tongue’s decayed / and we still / just don’t tempt me / one more night of your company” followed by “I know where to find you / I know where you go. / And I just want to let you know / You can have me / You can have me whole” you have a song that sounds borderline stalkerish in all the best ways.

Breaking into the middle of the album are “Through the Grass” and “Only Heather”, which feature the aforementioned atmospheric vibes of the first album.  “This Chain Won’t Break” represents another song where Jack has obviously harnessed the live atmosphere as you can almost see this song playing in front of you.  That point really can’t be overstated…the difference between writing your first album in your bedroom for yourself and your second for not only you, but others.  There’s a certain give and take that must exist, which is what I see being the biggest difference between these two albums.  When you are writing music with your fans in mind, you know they are expecting something, and only a performer can truly understand what that is.

Into the last half of the album, “Paradise” and “Counting Days” stand out amongst the crowd.  In speaking of the first, it’s an ethereal, dreamlike song of hope.  Like the rest of the album and Tatum’s work in general, it shys away from being over the top and instead focuses on a holistic sense of being.  On “Counting Days” Tatum’s vocals open up to the forefront of the music, leading the listener on a love affair as he proclaims amongst catchy guitar riffs, “You want to make spin / You want to hold me in”.

In all, Nocturne is what you want a second album to be from an emerging artist.  It’s sincere, honest music from his soul that shows growth for the sake of performance and not for the sake of simply change.  When I first saw Wild Nothing perform during the tour of the first album, I kept thinking during the show that something was missing.  And after listening to this album, I believe I’ve put my finger on it.  While Gemini was simply a collection of songs for Jack, Nocturne is one we can share with him.  And that makes all the difference between great and memorable.  Nocturne is available via your favorite record store or iTunes now via Captured Tracks. Stream the album in its entirety below.

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Written by Greg Dahman

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