Review by Pedro Polanco
When Jack Tatum set out to finalize Life of Pause, he meticulously created a room in a Long Island warehouse for the cover shoot. Featuring a glimpse through a keyhole into a room straight out of the 1970’s, the album’s cover represented exactly what Jack was searching for: a sultry backdrop to his typically catchy melodies and dream-like soundscapes. Life of Pause, Tatum’s third album under the name Wild Nothing, seems to exist in its own secluded world - for better and for worse.
The album starts off on a high note, with a marimba melody courtesy of John Eriksson on “Reichpop.” The rich tone of the instrument seems to bring the listener through the keyhole and offer them a glimpse into the life of a secluded musician and lover; like most songs on the album, it’s expertly textured, has plenty of reverb drenched vocals, and an addictive chorus. However, the song also brings to light some of Tatum’s weak points. Wild Nothing has never been known for excellent lyricism, but Life of Pause seems to be especially lacking in this respect. Most of the lyrics revolve around abstract descriptions of love, but almost none stand out as memorable. The reverb, the constant questions, and the conversational tone in choruses like “I wait / Can you wait forever girl?” off “Lady Blue” creates a general air of apathy which makes it difficult for the listener to care about what Tatum has to say.
Early into the album Life of Pause seems to drag, but just when you might begin checking your watch, Tatum hits the ground running starting with the energetic guitars on “Japanese Alice”. This is the first hint that, at least on the most upbeat tracks, the skill of Tatum’s songwriting might be enough to overlook his desire to chase after an atmosphere of smooth velvet and wall tapestries. Unfortunately, most of the best tracks end up being on the second half, when the same sounds have been repeated to the point where the listener can’t enjoy it anymore. Therefore, listening to these songs individually is a much more worthwhile experience.
That being said, lead singles “To Know You” and “TV Queen” have undeniably catchy melodies and make the most of the traditional structures guidelines Tatum adheres to. The title track and the second half of “Alien” are also high points, especially because these two bring in a heavy chillwave influence. When the album pushes its funk influences and psychedelic synth melodies to the forefront, it always thrives.
None of the songs off this album are particularly awful, but Tatum’s songwriting is not the issue which drags this project down. He’s consistently shown to be a skilled writer, and his move from bedroom pop on Gemini to meticulously-curated studio textures on Nocturne to funk-influenced synth leads here has kept him one step ahead of the dozens of dream pop imitators. His devotion to an atmosphere is what motivated him to create the album, but it also ends up being the work’s biggest downfall. His songs seem to be ways to communicate his emotions more in texture than in substance, and even when his melodies are well written they can get lost in the reverb and consistency. On Life of Pause, Wild Nothing has created a work of contradiction: difficult to define, yet easy to predict, and a stale album full of good songs.