On its face, Golden Haze is an EP that screams “stopgap”. Consisting of six tracks, three of which are available on another release, and one of which is a previously-released B-side, the EP brings just under five minutes of new music to the table. Still, it’s hard to begrudge Jack Tatum, Wild Nothing’s sole member, for capping off the year with a victory lap. After just a year spent writing songs, Tatum emerged in 2010 with a fully-formed aesthetic: A hazy remembrance of ’80s pop radio. His arrival was impeccably timed. Riding the coattails of nostalgia-baiting trends like chillwave, Tatum found well-deserved success with his debut album Gemini. Not one to rest on his laurels, Tatum dropped Golden Haze just before the year was out, signaling that he’s already pondering his next move.
“Golden Haze” gets the EP off to a strong start, all chiming guitars and echo-laden snare hits. It smacks of Tatum’s most frequently-cited touchstones, namely the Cure and the Smiths, and in many ways is cut from the same cloth as Gemini‘s strongest cuts. Ditto with the other two tracks pulled from the Evertide EP, though both songs still have plenty to recommend them. “Take Me In” marries cascading arpeggios with an insistent tempo, while “Your Rabbit Feet” pairs a serpentine bass line with washes of delayed guitar.
“Vultures Like Lovers”, the B-side to Gemini‘s wistful “Summer Holiday”, is the closest thing here to a hard left. At its heart lies a cold, electronic pulse, backed up by an omnipresent low-end hum and a jittery guitar figure that ebbs and flows in time with the beat. Tatum’s vocals here recall nothing more than late-period Animal Collective; hollering into a tunnel of echo, Tatum sounds like a dead-ringer for Panda Bear. Needless to say, the song sports a surprisingly contemporary sound, coming from an artist who’s more frequently compared to ’80s guitar pop bands from Britain than his peers.
The two new tracks, “Quiet Hours” and “Asleep”, hew closer to the Gemini sound than “Vultures Like Lovers”, though both manage to build on that album’s winning formula. “Quiet Hours” foregrounds its tinny drum machine beat and embraces comically dated synth sounds to great effect. And while its guitars read like pure Johnny Marr worship — no shocker, considering its title — “Asleep” finds Tatum contorting his voice into previously unheard shapes; a very welcome change from a fairly unadventurous vocalist.
All told, Golden Haze, like most stopgap releases, proves difficult to recommend to neophytes and casual fans. That said, the EP does find Tatum stretching his legs a bit, tinkering with the Wild Nothing aesthetic with an eye toward incremental growth. Taken together here in context, these six songs seem to sketch out a map of possibilities. All that’s left to do is choose a direction.