Review: Wild Nothing - "Nocturne"

Wild Nothing - Nocturne 
(2012 Captured Tracks)

The first time I ever listened to Wild Nothing’s 2010 debut album, Gemini, I could tell that it was something special. To be completely honest, it was probably my first foray into the lo-fi shoegaze scene that’s become my obsession. Yet no band I’ve heard since, not Beach Fossils, not Craft Spells, not even DIIV has been able to capture such a gorgeous, addictive sound while writing catchy melodies like Jack Tatum’s been doing for the past two years. I really should have been excited for the upcoming Wild Nothing album, but for some reason, I was a bit afraid.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When bands decide to expand their sound from the garage to the studio, the result is usually catastrophic. I’m mostly a fan of sparse and simple music, so when Tatum announced that his sophomore album, Nocturne, wouldn’t be recorded on Garageband like the last LP, I expected the worst. As usual, I learned that making assumptions isn’t the best way to go about listening to music.

Nocturne is one of those albums, to use a tired old cliché, that just doesn’t gets old. I find myself returning to it each time I log on to the computer and each time I listen to my iPod. A first listen reveals that Nocturne is much more warm and inviting than the cold, and slightly desolate Gemini. Looking back, this trend has been evident since the Golden Haze EP came out; it’s just so subtle that you won’t notice until now.

Although the album is flooded with this said warmth, it’s actually a product of sleeplessness, as many of the songs were written during the wee hours of the night. If you hadn’t heard him talk about this in interviews, you’d sure be able to tell just by looking at the packaging. A chart of the phases of the moon adorns the top of Nocturne‘s packaging, right next to the album’s very appropriate title. The song titles are also darkness-centric (“Shadow” and “Midnight Song”).

There’s also a lot more variety in the 11 tracks on Nocturne. While each track is flooded with the signature blend of heavy reverb, you’ll find many surprises hidden in the mix. The first track, “Shadow”, takes a small break from its jangly guitar attack mid-song and lets a string section take center stage.  The already über-catchy hook featured in “Midnight Song” is made even more gorgeous by the piano, reminiscent of “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac, whom Tatum cites as a major influence.

The biggest surprise happens to be my favorite track, “Through The Grass”, which is possibly the dreamiest song cooked up since the Cocteau Twins were still together. With its use of acoustic guitar, layer upon layer of effects and goosebump-inducing drums, it sounds like a cross between 70s soft rock (particularly “Sailing” by Christopher Cross”) and Spaceman 3. It’s almost unbearably beautiful.

“Only Heather”, which has been stuck in my head since I heard it live in July, is another standout. It’s probably the most accessible track and would feel right at home with earlier Wild Nothing material, yet it still retains a sense of fresh energy, possibly due to the recent acquisition of a live drummer. The second single of the album, “Paradise”, is the most nostalgic offering here; its cheesy keyboards and rhythm guitar would fit nicely on the Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles soundtrack.

There’s really only one dud on the album, which is “Disappear Always”. It has this incessant riff that feels a little too over-driven for my taste. The rest of the track is so dreamy that the abrasive guitar’s tone just doesn’t feel like it belongs. Despite the one minor fault, though, the album is pretty darn close to flawless, having a timeless feel yet still sounds perfectly retro. Nocturne is an album destined to become a cult hit and could even be considered a classic one day.