Music Reviews
Limbo, Panto

Wild Beasts Limbo, Panto

(Domino) Rating - 9/10

There have been some mighty curious double bills over the years (Blondie choosing Spearmint to accompany them as they relaunched around the turn of the century was especially surreal, and M83's forthcoming dates alongside the Kings Of Leon should prove fairly fascinating too), but three were few spectacles last year to compare with the sight of Wild Beasts opening for Jack Penate, of all people. Don't get us wrong, Penate's not without his copious charms, but, to his obvious chagrin – see his Run For Your Life for details – there's a significant element of his constituency that are most comfortable faced with lager, laddism and what we're now calling landfill indie, and, consequently, seldom has the red mist been seen to descend at a gig so swiftly as it did at the Astoria...

Heaven knows, then, what that section of the indie audience will make of Limbo, Panto, since, rather than chastening the Beasts at all, their experiences appear to have strengthened their resolve and led them down some fabulously uncompromising paths. You may by now have heard them being spoken of in similar sentences to Queen and Sparks, and both are entirely valid, since there's a profound air of playfulness and theatre suffusing this entire album, but where the Kendal combo really excel is in taking what should be a stock lineup and crafting something shockingly other from it. Recent single The Devil's Crayon, for instance, takes XTC's Love On A Farm Boy's Wages, whoops and growls all over it, and proceeds to make it shuffle in astonishment, while Please Sir may be the only barbershop madrigal to make it into the shops ever, and the astonishing Woebegone Wanderers blossoms from punk-funk shimmy through waltzing operetta and into freeform minimalism over, frankly, less bars than you might've thought advisable.

You can see why they might represent a whiplash-inducing break from the norm, and that's before even considering the vocals: bassist Tom Fleming's tours of duty in that respect are a lush spray of caramelised marshmallow-spiked hot chocolate, not unlike a luxury Edwyn Collins, but it's Hayden Thorpe that proves the real sticking point here, his alarmingly elasticated falsetto every bit as magnificently marmite as the likes of Manda Rin or Alex Pennie were in their respective outfits. Plus, even in a year awash with lyrically striking albums, ranging from Scroobius Pip and Aidan Moffat to the Wave Pictures and Los Campesinos!, this one intrigues at every turn. A tracklisting that contains Vigil For A Fuddy Duddy and the superb She Purred While I Grrred should make that fairly clear, of course, but The Old Dog hammers the point home, economically recalling the intelligent misanthropy of prime Black Box Recorder, and the ricocheting, imaginative imagery on Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants is simply breathtaking.

Not already sold? Fine. Try the fact that they close proceedings with Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye, a shining testament to their class and gentlemanliness. Or consider that they've managed to leave off Assembly, a truly remarkable single and clear winner of last year's best opening line plaudits via its "My top's off / I'm a goosepimpled god...", without that even feeling like an error or an oversight. Truly, Wild Beasts are those rarest of animals; true, untamed originals.