Wild Nothing, the product of sensitive songwriter Jack Tatum, has always worn his influences on his sleeve. First making his formal introduction with a heartfelt rendition of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting” (initially made as a present for his then-girlfriend back in 2009), Tatum has left his musical focus on acts of this particular timeframe. Never venturing too far off the grid, Wild Nothing has only elaborated and honed in on his whimsical synth-driven sounds. It has become increasingly clear that this area is Tatum’s safe haven, but there are certain playful eccentricities found on Empty Estate that haven’t been explored too often in the past.
“A Dancing Shell” would be the best example, where Tatum’s deadpan delivery of lyrics like “I’m not a human, I’m just a body / Just a dancing shell here to make you happy” play out as if sung by some Weird Science prototype robot over surprisingly funky guitar chords. While it may feel a little forced and contrived at times, it’s simply too damn catchy to be dispelled.
Other moments of experimentation (or at least as experimental as Tatum ever may get) aren’t as successful; particularly the two drawn out ambient tracks “On Guyot” and album closer “Hachiko,” with the latter cut being a possible ode to Bowie’s Low era. Such numbers may have worked on a lengthier piece of material serving as interludes, but with their appearance being on a seven-song EP, it comes off as lazy and deliberate throw-aways.
Yet it’s on a song like “Ocean Repeating (Big Eyed Girl)” – a song that easily could have found a proper home on his last LP Nocturne – where Tatum noticeably feels the most comfortable, which ends up being a gratifying experience on both ends. Sometimes pushing the envelope may be a grandiose gesture, other times more subtle, and while Wild Nothing may never be a Brian Eno, there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a Felt or Go-Betweens.