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Wild Nothing
Golden Haze Ross Pounds , October 29th, 2010 08:08

With this spring's gauzy, punch-drunk Gemini, Virginia native Jack Tatum, (or Wild Nothing, to use his nom de guerre) announced himself with some fanfare. A collection of delicate, wistful pop songs, Gemini was a precocious first step into the world, trading on nostalgia for a time that Tatum probably barely remembers (specifically, the early-to-mid 80s) but nonetheless managed to conjure evocatively. The dreamy, sparse songs around which the album was built rang with a sense of detached regret, of a despair hinted at but never fully articulated.

Balancing on a tightrope somewhere between the Shop Assistants and the most melodious parts of the My Bloody Valentine discography, Tatum framed his beautifully frail voice with richly textured arrangements – all trebly guitar lines, oozing synth and thrift-store drum machine beats. It was an album which acted as both a clarion call for the glory days of youth and as a yearning for the past which old age carries on its crumbling shoulders, a fine trick for one so young to pull off.

Skip the summer, and Tatum returns, delivering a new EP on the cusp of autumn and those long, bitter winter months. It's a seasonal change that suits the sounds of Wild Nothing a lot better. That precocity is still alive, as are Tatum's vivid paintings of a past heard only through the sounds of that particular era. It's not often that an album title accurately captures the sound of what's inside, but Golden Haze seems wonderfully fitting here. It is hazy, and crisp, decidedly autumnal, the kind of record one might listen to on the way to work or college on one of those late October days where the sky is clear but the cold pinches at your cheeks and bites at your ears, the words Tatum sings hanging on frosted breath and disappearing before you've had a chance to hear them fully. If there was a criticism to be levelled then it could be that things seem rather too familiar here: granted, it's only been a few months, but these songs could have found their way onto Gemini and we'd be none the wiser. It feels like they were recorded at the same time, a slight sin in a day and age where the likes of Zola Jesus and How to Dress Well are turning out EP's with wild abandon, changing directions as easily as tires slipping on icy roads.

Such was Gemini's strength though, and as talented as Tatum clearly is, it seems a touch unfair to chastise him for such trivialities. He'll undoubtedly progress, find new influences, add more to his palette.

Despite its relative slenderness (six songs, three of them taken from the stop-gap EP Evertide) it does exhibit a fuller sound. It's not as fragile or as forlorn as Gemini, as if Tatum has drawn strength from somewhere, as if his debut became a sealed bottle for the regrets that could be found lingering all over it. It's a collection of songs with some beautiful touches: the shimmering guitar lines and echoed vocals on 'Vultures Like Lovers', the Zola Jesus-like electric pulses lurking right behind them. Or the spiky, angular, Orange Juice-esque call-and-repsone motif at the beginning of 'Take Me In', its gently probing, prodding guitar becoming the aural representation of Tatum's emotional reawakening.

It's these moments, the subtle nods and winks beneath the arrangements, that make the EP, and Wild Nothing in general, such a joy to listen to. It's a subtle interpretation of an era rather than a wholesale ransacking of it, a record that deals in flecks of memory and emotion, calling to mind one of this year's other breakout albums – labelmates Beach Fossils' self-titled debut. Both bands deal in the same tropes (the drumming on both records, in particular, is startlingly similar at times), revelling in the space of their music, leaving the gaps open rather than trying to fill them with something meaningless. Tatum may eschew the minimalism favoured by Beach Fossils, but the emotion that comes through in the songs ensures that a connection of a different type is made.

It's classic jangle-pop with something slightly deeper lurking underneath, the Field Mice covering the darker corners of the Cure's oeuvre, an EP brimming with promise, full of the sounds of someone constantly honing their craft in the pursuit of distant perfection. One suspects that there'll always be something unrequited haunting whatever Tatum puts out in the coming years, but on the evidence provided so far it's certainly not doing him any harm. A musician with a dazzling future dealing in a half-remembered past and one who, right now, is putting the majority of his contemporaries in the shade.