Jack Tatum clearly believes that a moving target is harder to hit, having been in near perpetual motion since he first broached the music scene in the guise of Wild Nothing back in 2009. Since then we've been treated to his dreamy pop earworms across two full length albums and an intervening EP, each released to wide acclaim and each feeling like a distinct progression from the last.
If the lush lo-fi ethereality of 2010's Gemini showed Tatum's first tentative steps blinking into the light, its finespun melancholic foundations were only extended and illuminated through follow up EP, Golden Haze. Then came last year's Nocturne, which felt like a distillation of Wild Nothing's sound and influences, having a clearly defined melodic structure but coupled with an effervescence, that created something which remained high on 'dream', but equally strong on 'pop'.
This all brings us to the new Empty Estate EP and (initially at least) familiar ground on an opening pair of tracks clearly designed with summer in mind. Shafts of light flood the jangle of guitars on 'Bodies In Rainfall', while breathy vocals and pulsating synths create hooks on follow-up 'Ocean Repeating (Big Eyed Girl)'. These form a couplet, which serve as head nodding reminders of everything Tatum does best, erring on the lighter side of his sound, they are a floatation device to keep us buoyant as the music pools into more less familiar waters.
The change in current comes with instrumental 'On Guyot', its paired down mechanised thrums reminiscent of the Beta Band's 'Dry The Rain', which gradually gives way to a sparkling wash of harmonic synths that feel like dawn breaking over industrial cityscapes. It's the longest track here and together with its instrumental counterpart (the bittersweet drone of EP closer 'Hachiko') form intriguing experimental diversions, albeit ones which never quite hit their stride. In fact, these tracks are perhaps better viewed as entry and exit points to the prevailing digitised sound fused to the core of Empty Estate.
Robust may not be a word which you readily associate with Wild Nothing, but sandwiched between this experimentation are three surprisingly bold tracks. 'Ride' echoes early Cut Copy or later M83 depending on your viewpoint, with distant vocals overlaid by shuddering waves of electro, which feel upbeat on a down note. 'Data World' is the soundtrack to some parallel world montage of Eighties Judd Nelson strutting unrepentantly through a school library; deep bass lines and precision drumming rattling headlong into a startlingly exultant synth climax. Each track in this triptych attempting to push Wild Nothing's sound out from the shadows and shuffle it closer the dance-floor. That's not to say Tatum's going to be dropping floor fillers from here on out, even if he is writing tracks like the shimmering and standout 'Dancing Shell', with its Aztec Camera-as-remixed-by-Washed Out sounds; spoken word verses and sub-aquatic saxophones providing the theme to a thousand sun-kissed days yet to come.
While this isn't Wild Nothing stalling, Empty Estate never coalesces into anything as confident as his previous releases, leaving the impression that for now he's running on the spot. Like a warm up for the main act, this is colourful and intriguing but ultimately just a few elongated jams that add substance to some summery tunes. That said, Tatum's boundless energy and talent for consistent, durable, modern pop is something we should treasure so if Empty Estate isn't quite as evolutionary as its predecessors then, as he sings on 'Data World', "There's always the next and there's always the next after that".
7Tom Fenwick's Score