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Wild Nothing, ‘Empty Estate EP’ – Album Review

With two critically acclaimed, fundamentally very different albums to this credit, Wild Nothing mastermind Jack Tatum has quickly followed up last year’s ‘Nocturne’ with another release virtually long enough to be an LP. Again, Tatum has shifted gears, and the ‘Empty Estate EP’ is, at its core, very different than its predecessors.

While the EP format may lead some to assume these songs are spares left off of ‘Nocturne’ for reasons of theme or tone or — gasp — quality, Tatum actually made that album over 10 days last November following a period of heavy touring that left the songwriter, as he says in a press release, “feeling a lot of things.”

Tatum goes on to speak about a rediscovery of what music means to him, and of the strain that comes with touring the same songs night in and night out. What Tatum doesn’t say is that this kind of aimlessness might explain the weaknesses of ‘Nocturne,’ a collection some saw as samey and too rooted in the predictable sound favored by the Captured Tracks label. But beginning with the opening blast of guitar and synth that starts lead track ‘The Body of Rainfall,’ this new EP marks a deviation from the script.

An attention-demanding lead, ‘The Body of Rainfall’ sounds like it was written in a barroom. It’s a crowd-pleasing rock song unlike anything Wild Nothing has recorded, and while it’s not typical of the collection, it drives home the point that “typical” is not a word to be associated with this release. Tatum shows his range with the krautrock-indebted anthem ‘Ride,’ which takes the genre’s German trademarks and combines them with the haziness Wild Nothing is expected to deliver, creating an intriguing hybrid. ‘Data World’ is a similar cocktail, with an instrumental hook and pace that almost sounds like the 8-bit music Anamanaguchi explore on their new album, also out this week. And ‘A Dancing Shell’ recalls ’80-era Bowie and Eno, which Tatum claims to have listened to exclusively during the ‘Empty Estate’ sessions.

Holding the set together are a couple of instrumental tracks that are possibly more evocative and emotionally direct than the songs with lyrics. ‘On Guyot’ combines a steady, galloping rhythm with gradually expanding organ sound until the song has become a reciprocal of itself, like eyes slowly drifting from one corner end of the horizon to the other. Closer ‘Hachiko,’ which shares its name with an Akita that was known for loyalty to its master, is spare and reflective, allowing shifts in guitar volume to guide the listener in and out of whatever thoughts come in the peaceful endings of things.

By including these instrumentals, Tatum is apparently confident that he’s given us enough to consider during the vocal tunes that these pauses won’t fall flat and lose the audience’s interest. They don’t, and we’re left with a fantastic example of what EPs are good. On these shorter sets, where space can’t and shouldn’t be wasted, artists have the opportunity to reestablish their direction and rediscover their inspiration. The ‘Empty Estate EP’ feels not only important for fans, but for Tatum as an artist, and it should give him more freedom for his next offering.

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