EPs always tend to go one of two ways: they can either be a platform by which an artist toys around with a different sound or style without committing to a full album, or they can be stopgap measures aimed at cashing in on a few demos and throwaway songs. Jack Tatum, the mastermind behind the dream-pop band Wild Nothing, uses the format for the former. His last EP, 2010’s Golden Haze, was a tight collection of songs that expanded on the textures present on Wild Nothing’s debut while predicting the direction the band would eventually take on last year’s Nocturne. With that precedent in mind, Wild Nothing’s newest EP, Empty Estate, find Tatum in an interesting place as a songwriter. It shows Tatum at his most expansive, making slight tweaks to his songwriting style and trying really hard not to sound too much like Wild Nothing.
Empty Estate starts off with a bright burst of guitar pop in “The Body in Rainfall”, which abandons Tatum’s hazy guitar tones for something crisper and more pop-leaning. It properly sets the tone for the majority of Empty Estate as Tatum attempts to broaden his songwriting with simpler, more direct compositions. To some degree, it’s a success, as Empty Estate is a pleasant listen and the band’s performances are solid. However, the EP also finds Wild Nothing turning into a fairly disposable indie-pop band in the process of forging a new sound. The songs on Empty Estate shine and shimmer, but one can’t help but feel that Tatum has run himself into a dead end here.
It doesn’t help that, for a release with only seven songs, Empty Estate has an egregious amount of filler. The talk-sing back-and-forth of “A Dancing Shell” is arguably the worst song Tatum has written so far; the inherent cheesiness of its verses can’t be saved by the limp chorus tacked on to the song. What’s more, Tatum has seen it fit to waste more than a quarter of the space on this EP with two instrumentals (“On Guyot” and “Hachiko”) that meander far longer than they should.
Even so, I can’t help but be impressed at the cohesion of Empty Estate; even its worst songs work as part of a larger piece that Tatum is trying to compose here. And it’s not as if Tatum has lost his knack for a great pop song, either; “Data World” and “Ocean Repeating (Big-eyed Girl)” are delightful songs that make the EP worth an investigation, even if they’re more of a holding pattern than a great sonic leap forward for Wild Nothing. This isn’t to say that Tatum’s willingness to step outside of his sandbox is a detriment to his songwriting; indeed, Empty Estate is both a brave move from Wild Nothing and a welcome sign that he won’t commit a full album’s worth of material to experimentation for its own sake. As interesting as this EP is, though, Tatum still has a long way to go before any of his ideas on Empty Estate can turn into something as beautiful as his band’s previous work.