Album: Wild Beasts, Smother (Domino)
Friday 06 May 2011
Wild Beasts' follow-up to their Mercury-nominated Two Dancers is a much more concentrated, mature work, which focuses on the lures and snares of desire and sensuality, the way they breach any emotional firewall and override more sensible intentions.
It's a wise move: apart from anything else, it provides a more suitable vehicle for the flamboyant delivery of Hayden Thorpe, whose tremulous tenor seems more anchored here, less prone to fly into falsetto flights of fancy. Musically, the band's professed admiration for the experimentation of Talk Talk is perhaps most clearly realised in "Deeper", where the intimate little flicks and shudders of sound coalesce delicately into a gentle momentum that avoids settling into any familiar song structure. Elsewhere, the arpeggiating minor-key chords and tiny lead-guitar details of "Reach a Bit Further" pursue a melody and structure more characteristic of Radiohead, while the marimba-tone keyboards of "Albatross" and stately but implacable tom-toms of "Plaything" both recall the innovatory rhythms and textures of Can – both ideal influences for a band that wants to be "progressive" without lapsing into endless soloing or pseudo-classicism.
The pulsing keyboard bass and prim piano of "Lion's Share" sets the tone for the whole album, Thorpe exulting in the particularities and opportunities of imperfection: "I love you all the more for every fault – they're how I'd gotten in, they're how I cracked the vault". The suggestion of self-deprecation persists into "Bed of Nails", where he admits, "I would lie anywhere with you – any old bed of nails will do", as fancy guitar filigree decorates the repetitive, minimalist keyboard figure, and the drums ingeniously play around the beat without pushing it. Later, in "Plaything", the mutuality of dominance and surrender that accompanies fresh desire is characterised as each party being the other's sensual plaything, an alliance neatly summarised in the line "I concur, I conquer".
There are plenty of deft musical strategies illuminating the band's view of romance – I particularly liked the way that the zither-like waves of dulcimer in "Burning", picked out with glistening glockenspiel details, evoked the dizzying, miasmic whirl of emotion – but ironically, there are moments when Wild Beasts are too restrained for their own good. The damped chording and tom-tom tattoo of "Invisible", for instance, is a touch too methodical and diffident; and pleasing as the puttering groove and cyclical guitar of "Loop the Loop" is, it somehow fails to raise the required spirit. And though eminently capable of adding intriguing fresh coinings to the overstuffed lexicon of love – as with the eager "surround me like a warm bath, sum me up like an epitaph" – there are times when their imagery gets the better of them, most notably in "Albatross", where the titular metaphor confuses rather than clarifies the arc of desire. But overall, Smother finds Wild Beasts hurdling that difficult third album with some aplomb.
DOWNLOAD THIS Lion's Share; Bed of Nails; Deeper; Plaything; Reach a Bit Further
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