The lesser art of pop controversy dictates that there are two kinds of albums: those that require an effort, never showing us their sweeter side unless it’s after a certain struggle, a continual, attentive, patient exposure, and then there are those that stick to your headphones, pleasing you effortlessly from the very first moment, by some art of pop magic (an art that has a lot to do with custom and the laws of organisation of our perceptual organs, according to principles of recognition, grouping by similarity or continuity, persistence, or experience). Wild Nothing’s debut album falls comfortably into the second category, and not so much because it’s a well-rounded album (which it isn’t in the least), but rather because it falls in the terrain of custom, fitting into the way of doing things that over time, through repetition, has ended up acquiring the strength of a precept. In other words: however deep the reverb, however much bass they may resort to, “Gemini” is a work with revivalist intentions and eminently canonical forms, one of those albums that even without contributing anything new or different, without standing out too much from the rest, pleases us, and it pleases us precisely for that reason, because its timbres are so delightfully familiar, along with the emotions that those sounds cause in us.
It’s when “Live in Dreams” starts to play, with its escapist tone and romantic impulse (“Our lips won't last forever and that's exactly why I'd rather live in dreams and I'd rather die,” goes the chorus), that names start to swirl around in our heads (The Cure, The Wake, Felt, The Field Mice, The Sea Urchins, The Go-Betweens... you might even think about what would have happened if the first Hood had ever felt some sort of nostalgia for the heroic period of Postcard and Sarah Records), and they don’t stop until the last note of the album dies away. We are stepping on familiar ground, although in the battle between disinterest in what has already been heard and the celebration of nostalgic pleasure, the latter often ends up winning out, thanks to songs that are exuberant, addictive, and full of life. There is “Summer Holiday” (a real pop hit that shows an interesting counterpoint between the liveliness of guitars and rhythms and the lazy humour that Jack Tatum offers up in his phrases), “Confirmation” (a song that sounds like it’s blinded by its own light, halfway between the cold post-punk of For Against, The Radio Dept. and the shine of the latest batch of glo-fi), “Gemini” (one of the most Felt-like songs of the lot, although in its last section, it softens and floats up into the sky of whistling, dreamy, nebulous pop of shoegaze origins), “My Angel Lonely” (here one breathes Swedish air, although I couldn’t tell you why) or, especially, “Chinatown”, the great song on this first Wild Nothing LP, strategically placed in its home stretch, to leave a very sweet aftertaste that could have otherwise become unpleasant. Pay attention to the lyrics to see that “Chinatown” is a sad song, a prayer born from the deepest disillusion, which nevertheless is perceived as an expression of pure pleasure, as if it were a big smile drawn in the sky of pop lushness. A superb paradox.
Songs like “Pessimist” are somewhat more removed from the aesthetic centre of the album, making use of the loop and sampler, filling up the atmosphere like Deastro would without his rhythm machines and with an eye on Cocteau Twins, or “The Witching Hour”, with its guitars worthy of Manuel Göttsching, a bass line that owes as much to Simon Gallup as to dub, and a dry, muffled bass that invites one to think of that dark room that was the mind of Martin Hannett. Despite their “leftover” air, both shine out over the more clearly all-round pop pieces like “O Lilac” or “Our Composition Book”. The first plays in the same league as The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Minks or The Drums, but even though it has notable melodies, overall it sounds failed, tired, or frail, as if it needed to be cooked a bit longer. The second is pure twee xerography, a song full of shine that would fit in without problems next to Moving Pictures in Siesta’s first catalogue; the problem is that it’s hard to find solid emotions inside the candid forms.
Seen in perspective, “Gemini” is an album that exemplifies most of the good and bad of today’s underground pop: it’s an album that manages to sound sufficiently contemporary, in spite of its clear fixation on the past; its imperfection and spontaneous air give it a supposed freshness that serves to keep out of sight the pages of what is obviously a style manual. In the end, it is Tatum’s melodic talent that makes these songs somewhat believable (with life and impact aside from their influences), a catalogue of pop finds that are perhaps not always well resolved, a bit lacking in development, but attractive enough to catch on. Now we’ll have to see if in the future Tatum can turn these songs the basis of something even bigger.
Luis M. Rguez
Wild Nothing - Live In Dreams