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When Jack Tatum began work on Life of Pause, his third full-length to date, he had lofty ambitions: Don’t just write another album; create another world. One with enough detail and texture and dimension that a listener could step inside, explore, and inhabit it as they see fit. “I desperately wanted for this to be the kind of record that would displace me,” he says. “I’m terrified by the idea of being any one thing, or being of any one genre. And whether or not I accomplish that, I know that my only hope of getting there is to constantly reinvent. That reinvention doesn’t need to be drastic, but every new record has to have its own identity, and it has to have a separate set of goals from what came before.”

What came before: a rightfully acclaimed, much beloved display of singular pop craftsmanship. Tatum’s dreamy, unexpected 2010 debut, Gemini, was written while he was still a student at Virginia Tech University. Its equally disarming follow-up, 2012’s Nocturne, marked the first time he’d been able to bring his bedroom recordings into a studio, to be performed and fully realized with the help of other musicians. There has been a set of wonderfully expansive EPs in between—each hinting at new directions and punctuating previous ideas—but with Life of Pause, Tatum delivers what he describes as his most “honest” and “mature” work yet, an exquisitely arranged and beautifully recorded collection of songs that marry the immediate with the indefinable. “I allowed myself to go down every route I could imagine even if it ended up not working for me,” he says. “I owe it to myself to take as many risks as possible. Songs are songs and you have to allow yourself to be open to everything.”

After a prolonged period of writing and experimentation, recording took place over several weeks in both Los Angeles and Stockholm, with producer Thom Monahan (Devendra Banhart, Beachwood Sparks) helping Tatum in his search for a more natural and organically textured sound. In Sweden, in a studio once owned by ABBA, they enlisted Peter, Bjorn and John drummer John Ericsson and fellow Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra veteran TK, to contribute drums and marimba. In California, at Monahan’s home, Tatum collaborated with Medicine guitarist Brad Laner and a crew of saxophonists. From the hypnotic polyrhythms of “Reichpop” to the sugary howl of “Japanese Alice” to the hallucinogenic R&B of “A Woman’s Wisdom, the result is a complete, fully immersive listening environment. “I just kept things really simple, writing as ideas came to me,” he says. “There’s definitely a different kind of ‘self’ in the picture this time around. There’s no real love lost, it’s much more a record of coming to terms and defining what it is that you have—your place, your relationships. I view every record as an opportunity to write better songs. At the end of the day it still sounds like me, just new.”