The new Wild Nothing EP, Empty Estate, takes a minute of getting used to. It’s seven songs recorded in ten days, and it translates that feeling of being swept up rather quickly before regaining some footing in the familiar. Here we have Jack Tatum experimenting with some new sounds while remarking on how he felt in a very specific time period, after blowing up a good deal, touring extensively, and then finally having time to relax. These songs are a regrouping and evolving while staying true to why he makes music in the first place, but it takes about halfway through for that to become apparent.
Listening all the way through from beginning to end, it’s not until “Ride” that I started to come to grips with what any of it meant. Wild Nothing has received some criticism in the past of being too droning without saying much, so at first it seems like this could be a reaction and response to that. Those critiques may have filtered through somewhat, but it’s more Tatum’s numbing interest in playing the same songs over and over every night while being on tour for months. This shift is understandable, if not just a little bit of a jerk for someone who never fully agreed with that criticism, and rather enjoyed the clouds the band made in the form of songs. This new EP begins as a surprise, an initial disorientation, like sometimes when you come up out of the subway and don’t know which way to go for a couple seconds.
Right at the start with “The Body in Rainfall,” for a second I wasn’t sure if I was listening to Wild Nothing or something like old Hellogoodbye. It’s just so synthy, and straightforward upbeat radio friendly sounding, with Tatum’s voice coming through so much clearer than in the past. The instrumental distorter “On Guyot” takes an unsettling turn pretty early on, after about ten seconds, with the pitch bending to a creepy circus clown drone extent, but then almost just as quickly it starts to normal out and become pleasant and twinkling. This weirded me out, especially after that bizarre opener and then the incredibly 80s flirt song “Ocean Repeating (Big-eyed Girl),” to all of a sudden have this complex interlude that gradually reminds me of everything I find attractive about Wild Nothing. Now this one is probably my favorite track on the EP.
By the time lead single “A Dancing Shell” comes around, which is actually more of the part deux to “Data World,” we’re back to much of the shoegaze dream pop sound that Wild Nothing perfected with Nocturne, with some extra surprises and insight. And also way more throwback synth sounds. Smoothing it all over is last track “Hachiko,” which is quite possibly a reference to the loyal dog famous in Japanese culture, and so possibly Tatum’s own meditation on the catharsis of returning home. But even at the end of that it flows right back into reality with noises of distraction. There Wild Nothing goes again, still floating you on those song clouds and then letting you land softly to go back to your own wild.