Recorded while Jack Tatum was still an undergraduate at Virginia Tech and exhibiting a love of ’80s and ’90s pop, Wild Nothing’s debut album Gemini, now 10 years old, reflects a kind of artistic innocence. After the release of Tatum’s sophomore record, Nocturne, he said he took a lot more time thinking about his audience the second time around: “There wasn’t really an audience for the first one… I didn’t think about who was going to be hearing it.”

The lack of an audience is one of the reasons debut albums are so fascinating. It’s about the only time in an artist’s career when they are making music entirely for themselves, and as such, there’s a certain purity associated with it. On Gemini, Tatum had no reason to worry about wearing his influences—or his heart—on his sleeve, and that’s a big part of what has made it such a fan-favorite.

The record is a testament to Tatum’s craft and care, bringing together dream pop and indie rock in a way that is particularly thoughtful. The sounds of the ’80s are particularly prevalent throughout the record—from the drums on “Drifter” to guitar work indebted to everyone from Johnny Marr to Cocteau Twins to The Cure. Yet there’s something about the record’s sense of nostalgia that makes it of its time, the way it amalgamates so many sources from the history of alternative rock from The Sundays to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

In particular, the vocals—the understated and melodic delivery—evoke a melancholy, lovesick brand of boredom characteristic of its indie rock antecedents, who in the ‘90s and ‘00s struck a delicate balance between sentimental and detached. The lyrics are tender, straightforward, and, sure, a little bit naïve: “Where are you going/ Can I come with you/ I don’t feel right/ When you’re not here.” But Tatum’s voice never overextends itself. It’s a placid kind of melancholy, the perfect soundtrack to the loneliness of a dorm room. Listening to it now, it’s a comforting sadness.

Still, Gemini knows how to have fun too. So many quiet moments of play adorn these grooves, from the Galaga synths on “Bored Games” to the guitars and vocals on “Our Composition Book,” whose melodies mirror one another loosely, as if following each other around. And those opening strums of “Summer Holiday,” perfectly placed in that sweet spot between 80s alt-rock acts like The Smiths and R.E.M., turn-of-the-decade dream pop and contemporary indie rock, are like candy to fans of such jams.

The only downside to such immaculately crafted songs is that they are limited by the scope of their influences. In a music culture hungry for new sounds, it’s easy to overlook an album like Gemini, whose stylistic ambitions may seem somewhat modest. Although Wild Nothing doesn’t radically alter the dream pop formula, Tatum’s love for the music from which he takes inspiration permeates the record. For many other similarly nostalgic projects, this passion doesn’t make it onto wax. What’s more, the picture of pop music that Gemini renders here is remarkably intimate. Jack Tatum takes inspiration from the maximalist sounds of acts like Cocteau Twins and The Smiths, but he makes songs that sound like they could have been recorded in a bedroom.

This is pop music through and through, but it’s a quiet, hazy affair. Tatum would later swap out that dreaminess for a bigger sound indebted to soul, psych and disco on albums like 2016’s Life of Pause, in which the synths got brasher, the production got more distinct and Tatum’s voice took on a more commanding role. But there’s something about the intimate lull of Gemini—impossible to divorce from a time in one’s life where so much is suspended—that has given it such a lasting resonance.

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