The BLOG: Culture

The joyful noise of Wild Nothing

“Dream and love
Never wake up”
— “Confirmation,” 2010

Evoking a nostalgic yearning for youthful, carefree times, the joys of dream pop music are a welcome escape for the masses fraught with uneasiness amidst global upheaval in an unrelenting, hyper-kinetic adult meritocracy.

Who can deny the appeal of the sonic sinews from music that critic Simon Reynolds once described as, “celebrat[ing] rapturous and transcendent experiences”?

Today’s youth, nevertheless, may find those experiences few and far behind, given a decade of war, terrorism, high student debt, and a stagnant economy offering fewer career-oriented jobs. As Reynolds concluded 25 years ago, though acutely relevant in 2016, “confronted by a lack of options, both politically and in terms of youth culture, dream-pop musicians (and their audiences) are dreaming their lives away.”

But a musical excursion named Wild Nothing, founded and fronted by 20-something Jack Tatum, is not merely content to dream it all away. If anything, the singer, songwriter and instrumentalist, wants to dream it all up again. According to, he is interested in “what pop means, what it is about certain songs that catch people immediately…” The moody world he creates “is a clean, positive kind of nostalgia.”

Tatum is spearheading a revival of dream pop.

Born out of the “Paisley Underground” movement in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, dream pop seems to bend two genres of music seemingly unmalleable: 1960s psychedelia and 80s synth-pop, effortlessly forming a new sound equally idealistic and idiosyncratic. Vocals are mostly laden with dream-like distortion with lyrics purposely opaque.

Wild Nothing’s music is certainly derivative — with a certain sophistication — blending aural textures from the 60s with strong rhythmic song structures of 80s Fleetwood Mac and whimsical strains of The Cure, two bands Tatum cites as influences. The comparisons don’t stop there. It is apparent there is also a reverential pastiche of vintage 80s acts like New Order and Pet Shop Boys; hybrid mash-ups abound, contrasting the electronic elements of Tangerine Dream (founded in the 60s) with echoey guitar motifs of early U2.

A live version of “Only Heather,” from 2012’s Nocturne, borrows keyboard signatures from The Strawberry Alarm Clock and jangly guitar from The Byrds, yet sounds thoroughly modern and propulsive. “Live in Dreams,” off its first full length album, Gemini, is an impeccable nod to AM radio, circa 1967. And the video to “Paradise,” also from Nocturne – with a cameo appearance from actress Michelle Williams – would have easily fit into an MTV rotation during its halcyon heyday.

Gemini was recorded on a laptop in a dorm room, while Nocturne, the second full-length effort, was produced in a studio environment and is more approachable and less abstract. For music to truly resonate, however, Tatum understands it must ache, feel and breathe – which is difficult to accomplish with an over-reliance on software and introspection as inspiration.

Played live with a touring band his songs transcend digital limitations and become airy and atmospheric (ironically, no lap-tops are used on stage). The band’s gorgeous set during Lollapalooza 2013 in Chicago’s Grant Park may just be dream pop’s seminal moment of musical bliss. Absorb the sunny melody of “Shadow,” the catchy riff of “The Blue Dress,” and ethereal orchestration of “Golden Haze.” The irresistible “Summer Holiday” seduces you… to jump inside its jubilation and revel with delight.

Last month Wild Nothing released a new collection, Life of Pause (Captured Tracks). Sublime and reflective, it expands Tatum’s range by adding marimba and saxophone. “Reichpop,” the opener, is a sound collage reminiscent of the vibe found on Robert Plant’s 1985 Shaken ‘n’ Stirred, while “Lady Blue” taps into Til Tuesday’s catalog. Meanwhile, “Whenever I” is an effervescent dream pop take on funk. And “Adore,” as one review summarized, “strums and tumbles together in vintage late 60s psych pop fashion, but glides above the realm of mere tribute.” The new material should translate well in a live context. Wild Nothing will appear in Cambridge on May 9 at The Sinclair, as part of its continuing world tour.

It is encouraging that Tatum seeks to push the boundaries and popularity of a music which is still obscure, largely confined to clubs and beneath mainstream radio’s radar. A few years ago, popmatters noted that Wild Nothing is “searching for the balance between smoother pop construction and cohesive album identity, while maintaining its own nostalgic aesthetic.” Music that pleases the ear as well as hips and heart.

That may explain why Wild Nothing, of any of its fellow dream pop brethren, might have a broader appeal to a bigger group of listeners, not just millennials. Like the 40-something demographic, who would find it enjoyable.

If dreams are the colors of warm pastels, there is a peculiar sense that we may be drifting back to the browns and burnt oranges of more dysfunctional times, like the 1970s. Who longs for anything from that period?

The music of today’s rekindled dream pop, light and ambient – slightly tinged with melancholy – is a direct reaction to the overwrought fusion of heavy metal and punk from the 70s that ushered in 1990s grunge. The parents of most dream pop musicians heard the sound of New-Wave and optimism in the 80s. So it is unsurprising that Tatum personifies more 80s ambition than 90s angst.

As its repertoire develops, Wild Nothing also eschews the conventions of progressive rock’s complex themes and lengthy compositions. Dream pop avoids the self-indulgence of the 70s era’s incessant guitar and drum soloing and the ponderous, often lugubrious, self-loathing of 90s rock. Rather, Tatum’s music employs simple majesty, at times achingly beautiful.

Wild Nothing, with its joyful noise, is reimaging the idiom of dream pop, making it more accessible. Tatum, exuding the persona of reluctant shoe-gazer, but not reclusive pop star, senses the lineage that his songs are “kind of falling into that’s very real and very purposeful.” Given today’s uncertain times, that purpose may simply be offering a satisfying escape from its very reality.

James P. Freeman is a contributing columnist to the NewBostonPost’s opinion pages.