Agents of Good Roots. So if you live in a place like Blacksburg, Va., home of the Virginia Tech campus and not much else, and you want to be in a tropical punk act (Facepaint), an introspective singer-songwriter project (Jack & the Whale), or a band that covers Kate Bush instead of Dave Matthews (Wild Nothing's breakthrough rendition of "Cloudbusting"), you'll probably have to do what Jack Tatum did and start them yourself.
Gemini finds Tatum constructing a striking, solitary monument to just about anyone who moped, sulked, or bedsat their way through the 1980s. His love of dreamy, fuzzy, handcrafted guitar-pop isn't far removed from the Radio Dept. or the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but he displays a more comprehensive and widespread commitment to classic indie pop sounds. Revivalism notwithstanding, his craftsmanship is undeniable and the details are spot-on: Check the reflective bell tone in "Live in Dreams", the Cocteau Twins-like, artificial synth tom in "Drifter", and the Johnny Marr homage in the twinkly guitar fade-in that begins "Our Composition Book".
While Tatum plays hopscotch with his collection of 4AD, Factory, and Slumberland records, Gemini has plenty more to offer than sonic verisimilitude. On album opener "Live in Dreams," he sings, "Our lips won't last forever and that's exactly why/ I'd rather live in dreams and I'd rather die," and the lyric plays out like Gemini in miniature: While Tatum's words can edge on maudlin, his delivery is more romantic than dreary, and there's a sly, understated, and subtly addictive melody that gorgeously frames his sentiments. And melodies like that one, which the album features in spades, are ultimately what make Gemini more than just another indie pop record, and often more than the sum of its parts. Of course, that's not to say that each of them connects instantly. Though a handful of immediate standouts reward first listens, the record's debt-to-influence ratio may initially seem to overshadow the strength of the music. However, repeat spins reveal Tatum's strikingly innate sense of songcraft, as these tracks gradually earworm their way into daily life.
Similar to Bradford Cox's early work as Atlas Sound or the more similarly indebted Nick Harte of Shocking Pinks, Wild Nothing doesn't feel like a facile genre exercise so much as honest personal expression borne of intense musical fanhood. And in a strange way, it becomes something of a deceptively joyous affair, a reminder of why so many songwriters retreat to bedrooms or garages to lose themselves in the music-making process. Gemini is grand when it sulks, and even better when it's in motion-- check the falsetto hooks of "Confirmation" and "Summer Holidays", or the clattering, kinetic "Chinatown". Tatum carves a tunnel from Ibiza's beaches to Manchester's rain-soaked fairgrounds, and in the process, captures a lot of what is exciting about underground music's current classic indie-pop fixation.