When it comes to surprise twists, dream pop carries about as many as a film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Much in the same way that you expect to see a kiss scene in the rain accompanied by a soaring, melodramatic crescendo in those movies, when you sit down to listen to an album described using the words “cloud,” “dream” or “chill,” you can probably predict what’s going to come out of your speakers before you even press play: gauzy guitars, sleepy vocals, melodies as simple and inoffensive as vanilla ice cream. It’s predictable—easy on the ears but predictable.
So when Gemini, Wild Nothing’s 2010 debut, came along, it was easy to write it off as a good dream-pop album but nothing that new or unusual. That is, until you got to the fine print. For one thing, Wild Nothing isn’t your standard Brooklyn band. It isn’t even a band, per se. It’s the project of one Jack Tatum, a Blacksburg, VA, native who first gained recognition with his Kate Bush covers. Gemini was a record stuffed with lush instrumentation, intoxicating shoegaze grooves and practically zero pretentiousness—traits made only more impressive by Tatum’s solo methodology. But more significantly, it’s an LP that, while having its head in the clouds, also included enough variability to keep things interesting: a Brit-pop riff here, some totally ’80s flourishes there. Now, with the release of Nocturne, Wild Nothing again proves that chilly/cloudy/dreamy music doesn’t have to be the album equivalent of The Notebook.
There are still the touchstones of the genre that you’d expect: Tatum’s voice is pillow-soft and at times downright sleepy, and he tends to favor guitar tones that shimmer and shine. But the most prevalent motif in Nocturne is a simple and potent one: the almighty, timeless pop hook. “I don’t think it’s going to be a secret to anyone that I care about pop music,” he recently stated about his musical M.O. “But it’s definitely more my sense of what pop music used to be or even what pop music would be in my ideal world.”
And what a world it is: majestic violins float through “Shadow,” which, contrary to the title, sounds like the Cure taking a trip to the beach. Molasses-thick guitars, for once, don’t sound sluggish; they merely swaddle the infectious guitar pop of “Midnight Song” and “The Blue Dress.” Intermittent tastes of Afro-pop, such as those on “Paradise,” sound at once like an homage to the days of Duran Duran and a nod to contemporaries like Tanlines. The instrumental packaging (which sounds even more lux and sophisticated than ever) shifts constantly, but there’s always a catchy melody to carry Nocturne through. For an album named for a song of the night, this is as sunny as it gets.