Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum revels in dichotomies. The group’s recent release, Indigo, signals a throwback to their previous LP Gemini while also traversing the sonic territory of 1980s new wave. Indigo showcases the fluidity of sound and Tatum’s ability to find a balance between two opposing poles. Throughout the album, Wild Nothing is simultaneously vintage and modern while also sounding high and low-fi. As a result, Indigo is a reflection of erstwhile musical genres and the artist’s own creative identity.
Indigo is a musical time machine. The opening drum rolls recall the 1980s new wave era by channeling the sound and energy of the Pet Shop Boys or Talk Talk. Indigo lands in the early stages of new wave, when punk rock’s influence was still evident. “Letting Go” features guitars and keyboards that are anchored by a bruising bass guitar then accentuated by a fluttering synth. A similar balance between late punk and early new wave is echoed on the subsequent track “Oscillation” and revisited in the instrumental “Dollhouse”. Tatum adds the styling of Benji Lysaght on guitar and Cam Allen on drums. For better or worse, the instrumental blending renders it difficult to discern the musicians’ distinct contributions. At once this is an example of musical synergy but also a sign of overproduction.
The video for “Letting Go” is a similar homage to 1980s music culture. Draped in surrealist imagery, the video captures moments of the bizarre juxtaposed to the mundane. The camera cuts between shots of snails creeping toward their demise, a funeral, and the consumption of the magic mushrooms Liberty Caps. Throughout, Tatum is clad in an ill-fitting suit that reiterates the 1980s tendency to use dress to lampoon heteronormativity. The video also prominently features a muscled man only wearing a tiny speedo. In one particular moment, said beefcake is carrying Tatum in a pool and gently caressing his chest. The overt homoeroticism is another direct call to 1980s videos ranging from the Eurythmics video “Sweet Dream (Are Made of This)” to Billy Squier’s “Rock Me Tonite”. Whereas new wave artists evoked homosexuality to reject the strict definition of gender and sexuality, Wild Nothing’s video verges more on a performance piece rather than subversive art.
If Indigo‘s instrumentation doesn’t convince you of new wave’s influence, then Tatum’s vocals will. The album is packed with the compressed and reverberated vocals stylistically prominent in the early 1980s. Tatum even nails the distanced tinny echo so popular with new wave bands. For instance, to achieve that sound, Human League record a vocal layer for their single “Don’t You Want Me” in the bathroom. Tatum draws from this influence specifically on the track “Shallow Water”. “Flawed Transition” adds a sense of vulnerability as Tatum’s repeats “let’s stay together, let’s stay together” thereby reinserting a sense of humanity against the vastness.
Wild Nothing’s lyrics lack depth and frequently resemble a Wes Anderson script rather than matching the album’s instrumental complexity. For instance on “Partners in Motion”, the lyrics “I caught you in the dog house, drinking coffee with your new wife” paints an image of Bill Murray sitting against Anderson’s color schematics. Similarly, Tatum overburdens the lyrics on “Bend” when he sings “Half-awake, I’ve seen her face / The angel swinging from the trapeze wire / Sad and lost with curly hair / And chicken feather dropped against her back.” Here he verges on purple prose, and the lyrics seem excessive.
Despite the lyrical flatness, Wild Nothing does provide some social commentary on the overlap between technology and humanity. That is audibly expressed in the use of both electronic and analog instrumentation. For example, “Partners in Motion”, features a brassy new jack-swing component that returns on “Through the Windows”. This is an audible contrast to Wild Nothing’s reliance on synths and reverb. Yet, the lyrics for “Closest Thing to Living” drive Tatum’s perspective. The track begins with the suggestion that “A joke for the age of detachment / This is how we unwind / This is how we unwind / Together but alone / When I look at you/ It’s a screen turned blue.” Clearly, Tatum is responding to modernity’s attachment to our smart devices and the inability to unplug even when we are in the company of others.
Indigo’s strength is the blend of instrumentation and the replication of a bygone musical era. Wild Nothing’s endeavor is certainly not revolutionary, but it does provide a musical comfort as it returns listeners to the new wave era. In doing so, Tatum easily expresses his own creativity while channeling a familiar, yet fresh, direction for Wild Nothing.