Wild Nothing: Hold

On May 25, 2010, Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks released a pair of homespun debuts by bands whose re-interpretations of first-wave indie pop would help spearhead a wave of millennial DIY nostalgists. Since then, Beach Fossils and Wild Nothing have charted parallel paths: Both followed their debuts with a studio-grade sharpening of their sound, then pivoted to baroque songcraft with vintage electric keys and saxophone solos. Following a joint tour celebrating the bands’ 10th anniversaries, their respective frontmen each settled down to start families before returning this year with unusually personal albums that re-examine their past work through the lens of fatherhood. Beach Fossils’ Dustin Payseur returned to his surf-pop style on June’s Bunny; Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum finds new meaning in his dreamscape on Hold, emerging with some of his most touching tracks to date.

Hold was written shortly after both the birth of Tatum’s son and the onset of the pandemic. The inability to tour or book studio time, coupled with the parental learning curve, forced him to reconsider his priorities—a shift that’s reflected in the exploratory nature of his new work. In contrast to the distinct aesthetics of 2016’s Life of Pause and 2012’s Nocturne, Hold adopts a refreshing sense of whimsy. Self-producing for the first time since 2010, Tatum dabbles in one-off genre experiments, toys with eccentric lyrical devices, and embraces a maximalist ethos that sets this album apart.

Loosening up Wild Nothing’s sound also allows Tatum to peel back the obscurity of his lyrics. On “Pulling Down the Moon (Before You),” the Peter Gabriel-inspired closer, he indulges in a newfound sentimentality, describing the renewed purpose he’s found in fatherhood and the anxiety that comes with it. “A whole existence I can hold/But won’t ever weigh me down,” he sings, reverb-gated snares and delayed lead guitar echoing all around. His vocals nudge to the front of the mix, a deluge of psychedelic effects highlighting the vulnerability in each word.

The most gripping moments dissect Tatum’s insecurities with surreal, self-deprecating humor. “Suburban Solutions,” inspired by his move from Los Angeles back to his home state of Virginia, second-guesses the desire for domesticity. He pictures his new setting as an ironic advertisement for the bourgeois lifestyle, soundtracked by a chintzy array of synths. “Take a big bite,” he commands in the cartoonishly pitched-down voice of a commercial announcer. Where dreams once represented escapism in his music, the subconscious now feels occasionally antagonistic. It’s strange to hear a Wild Nothing track to adhere so tightly to a concept, but Tatum grounds the material in his trademark stuttering rhythm guitar and booming motorik beats.

When Tatum returns to dreams, he seems eager to wake up. In “Histrion,” he recounts a familiar nightmare: standing in front of an audience and forgetting every word. (In the final verse, a crane hoists him offstage.) Bolstered by warbling Auto-Tune, he belts with unprecedented abandon, slamming piano chords and wailing in a Todd Rundgren falsetto to amplify the ecstasy. This ability to surprise is Hold’s greatest asset. After dabbling in Eno-esque ambient sounds, straight-ahead shoegaze, and baggy beatcraft, Tatum lets the layers of nostalgia overlap when “Dial Tone” calls back to that old, breezy jangle circa Golden Haze, a time when Wild Nothing’s ’80s revivalism set a new benchmark for bedroom pop. He can still rekindle its magic on cue.

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