There are at least a hundred different ways you can hear the seams of the night creep into Wild Nothing’s second full-length, Nocturne. Aside from the obvious title reference, the moniker that’s often given to describe Wild Nothing’s music, “dream pop”, is a worthy indicator, as well. Normally, I eschew faceless descriptors such as those, but I’m hard pressed to come up with a better or more accurate label for the deep, synth-heavy tunes that comprise Nocturne’s delicate 45 minutes.
Because much of Nocturne sounds born of dreams; all of the tracks are draped in some mysterious, ethereal reverb, with synth riffs a few programmed drum beat masquerading in the background. Even the guitar riffs are doused in the kind of chiming, bell-like quality that Robert Smith and The Cure meticulously crafted on songs like “Pictures of You” and “Lovesong”. Both albums, The Cure’s Disintegration and Nocturne, share similar qualities, also: alternating emotions of menace and joy, melody lines that aren’t afraid to convey emotion, and sounds that are too ghostly to absorb in one listen. But where Robert Smith set out to intentionally make a masterpiece with Disintegration, Tatum isn’t ready to take himself that seriously—yet. There’s too much playfulness and a degree or two of solemnity in tracks like “Only Heather” and “Paradise”, the latter of which is built around a lyrical refrain of “love is paradise”. It’s not that Tatum doesn’t take what he does seriously; it’s just that the bounciness found in the opening guitar riff of “Shadow” and the closing retro synths of “Rheya” don’t make good music to brood to. They make better music for dancing.
Tatum has also painted on a new layer of naturalness to his music since 2010’s Gemini. He’s more consistent from song to song, keeping the tempo and the tones locked closely together. Gemini felt like a series of quick singles shot with bright moments of pop bliss, but occasionally lacking coherence. Nocturne is a complete cycle; a mirror of the lunar phases illustrated on the album cover.
The first three tracks, “Shadow”, “Midnight Song”, and “Nocturne”, are almost as perfect a foundation as we could hope for. The chiming guitar riffs that kick off “Shadow” and “Nocturne” are infectious enough to keep you glued to the album, and “Midnight Song” exploits the fragile dreamscapes with an abundant palette of guitar tones and soft focus drums. Tatum frontloads Nocturne with three great tracks, but doesn’t give up the momentum despite the oddity of “Through the Grass”, a lovely and strange opus of reverb and some flamenco guitar. And “Only Heather”, a lovelorn pop song about the titular girl may be the weakest track, if only because it’s just that; a lovelorn pop song surrounded by more mature tunes.
There’s no downward slide to Nocturne, either. No back half of the album that doesn’t match up to the grandeur of the front half. “Counting Days” and “The Blue Dress” are both anchored by prominent bass lines, though neither bests the dancing bass that powers “Shadow”. and “This Chain Won’t Break”. New Wave and C86 bands—two influential styles you can hear on Nocturne—are no stranger to moving bass lines. But somehow Tatum builds a foundation out of them and then packs a massive amount of instrumentation on top. But each synth note, each plucked guitar string, and each cymbal crash is accounted for and used purposefully without feeling heavy or overloaded. It makes for a new discovery every listen.
“You want to know me? What’s to know”, Tatum sings on “Nocturne”. We know enough about him to figure out he may have found his muse with Nocturne. It’s an album made of dreams, haunted visions, and echoes that extend forever. And it’s also a love song to all things nocturnal but it sounds just as sweet in the daylight.