If Wild Nothing’s new album couldn’t be timeless, mastermind Jack Tatum wanted it to sound, in his words, “at least ‘out of time.’” For some reason, he figured that focusing on ’80s-style synthesizers would do the trick. In a way, it did, but probably not in the way he imagined. On 11 songs flush with glossy synths buffed to a rubbery sheen, Indigo plays like a pure, but unoriginal tribute to ’80s pop.
That’s not to say these songs aren’t pleasant enough. Opener “Letting Go” starts with a quick snare fill before a smooth, sheeny keyboard line flows through to lend a wistful feel, while the repeating melody on “Wheel of Misfortune” casts a mild shadow, like a cloud on a sunny day. There’s an aggressive call-and-response between brash, effects-treated guitar and a nimble synthesizer part on “Canyon on Fire,” and a prominent bassline surrounded by curtains of atmosphere and dreamy vocals on “Shallow Water.”
Even so, most of Indigo feels like a string of genre-writing exercises: there are echoes of the Thompson Twins, Pet Shop Boys, maybe a little Flock of Seagulls, and is that something from the musical Chess? Noodly saxophone meanders through “The Closest Thing to Living” over a guitar arpeggio that comes off like a slack interpolation of Pink Floyd’s “Hey You,” while the mix of guitars and synths on “Partners in Motion” creates a vague tension, like a bed track that could have accompanied a Crockett-and-Tubbs soul-searching montage on Miami Vice.
Wild Nothing aren’t the only act digging into the sound of the ’80s lately—plenty of bands are finding inspiration in the bright machine-made tones and almost hermetic production style that characterized so much of the pop music that decade. But the ones that stand out—Destroyer’s 2011 album Kaputt, to pick one example—bend those influences into something new. Wild Nothing seems more focused on process, as if the goal were dialing in just the right sound.
But that’s not enough. All the groups that Wild Nothing evoke on Indigo had something in common: they wrote memorable songs. The sound was a product of its time, but the strength of the melodies and lyrics made them timeless. Tatum and his collaborators nailed the sounds, but they don’t come close to finding tunes that resonate.