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Wild Nothing: Nocturne
Since then, most of these ‘chill-wave’ bands (as they became known) fizzled out just as quickly as they came onto the scene; partly because none of them were actually saying anything and also because between the reverb ad infinitum and passive execution, it was almost impossible to tell them apart without becoming a musical pedant.
Many chill-wave acts then fell in two directions: those who refined their sound only to reveal utter bullshit, and those whose refinement revealed a band worthy of continuing making records. Surprisingly, Wild Nothing’s sophomore album Nocturne places them in the latter category, but only just.
Wild Nothing, despite being a full band when performing live, is really the solo project of 24-year-old Jack Tatum. Tatum began recording songs alone in his bedroom during and after college, which eventually culminated in 2010’s Gemini that celebrated hazy melancholia through songs like ‘Live in Dreams’, ‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘Chinatown.’
However, considering the fate of previously alluded to chill-wave bands, it seems perfectly fitting that Tatum turned to the expertise of Brooklyn indie veteran Nicholas Vernhes – who helped bands like Dirty Projectors and Deerhunter solidify their sound – to produce his following up album, Nocturne.
The result is eleven beautiful songs that, despite being very similar to those on Gemini, are captured with much higher resolution. Every instrument and lyric can be made out, yet it still draws the listener in to its dreamy world.
But don’t be misled; Nocturne is not a groundbreaking, experimental record that will take listeners through a tour of the scope of human emotions. It is simply Jack Tatum perfecting what he does best – simple, straightforward, jangly, dreamy, uplifting melancholia. It is a record for those who don’t quite know how they should feel, but want something to make them feel good about that, and dance too, if possible.
Two sonic themes permeate the album. One sounds like trying to find your soul mate – or memory of one – in an empty club full of smoke where vision has become completely impaired. The other sounds like Tatum trying to understand why anybody really decided to pay attention to his band in the first place. And though no lyrics truly stand out to the point of being quote worthy, they all come across as ambiguous descriptions of these two ideas.
But despite the hazy beauty of Nocturne, there is definitely an undeniable element of boringness to it. Yes, it’s a beautiful sound, filled with creativity and passion, but it’s also a safe sound; emasculated and almost completely opinion-less.
It’s always a charm to put this record on and be uplifted, but there’s no real substance in its content that listeners can put in their pocket and carry around with them throughout the day. And for that reason, in a day and age when musical ingenuity and substance is evolving so rapidly, it seems unlikely that Nocturne will stand out in the future as a musical gem in the history of indie.
Album opener ‘San Angeles’ will get feet moving and booties shaking, but the rest of the album is decidedly more post-rock oriented. The influences of Pink Floyd only really make a grand appearance on psychedelic tune ‘Lunar Drift’, with its spooky synths and echoing bass line.
‘The Eliminator’ takes the listener back to the eighties again, as the repetitive electronic beat that is used sounds a lot like the 8-bit sounds that were the backdrop for many early eighties video games. Imagine the aforementioned desert wasteland turning 8-bit coloured.
The eighties also dominate in the strummed intro to ‘Martin Rev’, evoking memories of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. You’d almost think the guys of Maserati had wished they were making music a few decades ago.
You've got to love Kurt Vile. Whether or not you like his songs or general aesthetics, no one can deny that he has mastered the ‘like, I’m just an ordinary dude’ artistic ethos exceptionally well. And not only has he been able to carry that grungy/punk torch into the modern world of indie music, he’s been able to do it as himself; a solo guy, a ‘singer-songwriter’, in a time when the very notion of such is enough to make one cringe.
On Wakin on a Pretty Daze, not much has changed since Vile released his debut album with Matador Records, Childish Prodigy, back in 2009. Vile is still creating acoustic guitar, ‘singer-songwriter’ songs punctuated with beautiful guitar lines and lazy but seductive melodies. Vile’s also still singing half-pedestrian/half-stoned-out lyrics about the people he meets, the bars he frequents, the planet he lives on, or the squalor of his apartment that tend to turn everyday banalities and words into epic events – at least in the eyes of a stoner.
Comparing Childish Prodigy’s lead single ‘He’s Alright’ with Pretty Daze’s ‘Wakin of a Pretty Day', it’s clear that Vile’s still trying to say: “Hey Guys. Chill out. Life’s alright. If I can do, it you can do it – right? Oh, yeah, and thanks for listening.”
There’s an instant soothing that comes from Vile’s sound; especially in Cairo, when one has to hop into a car twice a day to join the static rush hour traffic – it’s the perfect music to zone out to.
But unlike many of his contemporaries, Vile is a slow burning candle. Even before his debut album, the songs he released were pretty similar just with lower production quality. In a recent interview, Vile explained that “I know what to do to become the next big thing, but I have no interest in doing that. I want to do this my whole life.” The slow and subtle evolution of Vile’s albums – noticeable to probably only the most voracious listeners – is testament to this.
However, this desire to just cruise through his career on his own terms removes that element of surprise and heavy experimentation from Vile’s work that would really help make it stand out album to album. But at the same time, this aesthetic loyalty is also a large part of his charm.
Therefore, as a result, none of the albums really have any peaks, or troughs, and Pretty Daze is no different.
The entire album is one long, approximately 70 minute, beautiful moment, but there are no real fireworks, no explosive flashes. Stand out tracks are certainly the opener and title track, ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’, as it sweeps the listener off their feet straight away and plunges them into the world of Kurt Vile.
Another notable track is ‘Shame Chamber’ which uses a steady head-nodding groove in order to bouncily deliver lyrics about mankind’s shortcomings as a finger pointing, shame inducing species. “Shame on you, shame on me, and shame on us, for feeling bad in the best way,” says Vile.
But as said, there are no money shots on Pretty Daze, only one long smooth, sensual session. Pretty Daze has also arrived just in time for spring, when hopefully, the daze that Cairenes have come to wake up to becomes a little brighter.