“Breathe indigo, / It’s the closest thing to living.”
Born in a dorm room in Blacksburg, Virginia, Wild Nothing is the stage name of Jack Tatum, who lends vocals and production to the one-man act. After unexpected attention to his earlier musical efforts, Tatum signed to an indie label and focused on music full-time.
And so he did, producing five albums under the Wild Nothing brand. Gemini, his debut album released in 2010, offered flashes of brilliance. Gemini’s earnestness was what made it a sleeper sensation — if it wasn’t particularly clever or genius, at least it was honest. It was shoddily fashioned, sure, but it never felt constrained to a particular moment or idea. Its 2012 follow-up, Nocturne, sounded faithful to Tatum’s vision without being repetitive or boring. In comparison to his initial promise, 2016’s Life of Pause sounded uninspired, different for the sake of being as much.
While the disappointment of Life of Pause left some wondering if Tatum could reclaim his sound, his new album Indigo proves that he still knows who he is. Indigo is a project reminiscent of his younger work: overflowing with honesty but honed with experience and technical efficiency spawned over a decadelong passion project. Indigo exhibits the youthful energy that initially brought Tatum his fame but also benefits from a decade of experience. The result is innovative and sonically deft. Indigo is an apt conclusion to Tatum’s energetic 20s, tempered with experience. If Gemini fell just short, Indigo is Tatum hitting the mark.
Indigo presents confectionary ‘80s pop infused with moodier electronic experimentation, mixing surface-level optimism with darker themes. It’s faithful to Tatum’s influences. He seems to have taken the sound of The Cure and The Smiths and applied it to early adulthood –– while simultaneously citing Fleetwood Mac, Roxy Music and Kate Bush as sonic peers.
Broadly, the album explores the dichotomy of man and machine and the strange harmony that exists between them. Ray Kurzweil, an author, inventor and leading expert on AI, inspired the title and overarching concept of the album. Kurzweil is a futurist who explores technological singularity as inevitable.
Tatum himself doesn’t want to cry doomsday when discussing themes of technology and future. He instead offers his own skeptical commentary. “Running in place / a joke for the age of detachment,” he muses on “The Closest Thing to Living” –– the track that most explicitly explores our modern age. Here, Tatum explores our dependency on “indigo,” or digital screens, to stimulate ourselves constantly.
“Wheel of Misfortune” is most directly indicative of Tatum’s influences. Armed with a classic sound and light-footed tread that’s reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, the song explores common territories of inconsequence, time and regret.
“Canyon on Fire” cynically examines LA and its perils. It comes to an unoriginal conclusion about the American dream and resolves itself in a muttering outro, marking it the weakest addition to the record.
“Bend” and “Partners in Motion” explore twinned expressions of desire. “Bend” is a hauntingly beautiful ode to a lover illuminated by moonlight. In direct opposition to this, “Partners in Motion” begins with unrequited love and descends into stalking and obsession. The songs grapple with themes of unfulfilled love and Tatum’s fascination with his partner.
“Oscillation” and “Flawed Translation” both address the self-doubt that surfaces in long-term relationships. The latter includes a lyric that sums up Tatum’s intentions with Indigo: “I would promise you wonder / If I could only find it.” Wild Nothing isn’t presenting any revelations with its new music, but it isn’t trying to, either.
“Shallow Water” is a mature consideration of love that marks the difference between Gemini and Indigo. Sonically, it is washy and underwhelming, but lyrically, it exhibits groundedness. Similarly, “Through Windows” is an ode to the comfort and safety Tatum feels with his wife. It isn’t boring, however — it is the most upbeat and rock-influenced song on the album, inviting comparisons to Bowie and Sade. “Simplicity, the only thing that I need / No more twisting my wrist or chasing my tail,” Tatum sings as the song swells to the chorus that promises, “Now and forever.”
“Letting Go” takes a deep look into the genre of dream pop –– the genre where Tatum has made himself a home. The song intends to be a self-examination of both the music and the artists of the genre. It looks beyond impenetrable sound that characterizes the genre and investigates memory itself and how memories inform sound.
Tatum explores shifting remembrance and the temporary and how they crisscross synapse and circuit. It’s the first track of the record, but it could be the last: As it fades, you forget it. You’re left bereft of specifics, save for a vague feeling of contentment and, stranger still, recognition. This is not unlike the feeling you are left with when the album is over.
If Indigo is nondescript, it is intentionally so. Tatum’s fifth studio album offers moments of transcendence, fleeting images of youth, love and connection. With Indigo, Wild Nothing has regained its footing with ethereal and undefinable offerings.
Contact Maryam Khan at [email protected].