Jack Tatum thought he must’ve hit a goldmine when his 2010 debut album as Wild Nothing was so rapturously received with little to no preceding fanfare. This North Virginian native, and his album, Gemini, proved to be a beguiling release, a wistful summer-sounding, 80’s referencing aside to the music of Tatum’s youth. Full of promise, the album was more than the sum of its parts, elevating Tatum beyond his home-studio surroundings onto stages around the world.
Two years and one EP later, Tatum has seemingly chosen the safe path on Nocturne, delivering an album that is undeniably Wild Nothing in sound and scope but one disappointingly bereft of fresh ideas. Opening track “Shadow” is Wild Nothing at their apex. If you were to condense everything you knew about Wild Nothing into one track, the hushed vocals, chiming guitars and synthetic strings of “Shadow” is what you would come up. It’s a gorgeous, dizzying rush, but what follows on the other ten tracks amounts to the same with mostly minor cosmetic differences.
Written and recorded largely at night, Nocturne tries to funnel the buoyant guitars of New Order’s Lowlife (think “Love Vigilantes”) and the muted mystery of The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (think the entire double album opus) into each song. There’s little point dealing in specifics here when the recipe tastes the same. For a record that Tatum regards as a “night album”, Nocturne reads like a dream repeated. Nothing here is simple or understated, each song feels like its been fed through Tatum’s Wild Nothing filter and polished twice for an extra shine. There’s no sense of experimentation (I’ll concede the Washed Out euphoria of “This Chain Won’t Break”), no attempt to deviate from plan.
Where Nocturne fails to deliver is in relying too heavily on using the same palette of sounds and the same bag of tricks used on Gemini. Which isn’t to say this is Gemini Pt.2, but Tatum is clearly a man who invests a lot in his songwriting, and given his one-man-band approach to recording it may work better next time to let other hands and ideas enter the fold. There are few things as frustrating as listening to one idea given free reign, especially if that were already masterfully achieved once before.