Music Reviews

Wild Beasts Smother

(Domino) Rating - 8/10

In Sonic Youth’s rather incomprehensible Or, Thurston Moore at least poses a great question right at the end of the song: What comes first/the music or the words? Depending on where you stand in terms of vocalizing your sexuality amongst others, disclosing your esteem for the Wild Beasts in an open setting might initially bring an uncomfortable air. Completely guileless about divulging fears and desires on record, the Kendal four-piece creates songs that mainly resonate in one’s intimate space. Unveiling their allusive lyrics is like a game of Charades – what one may surmise in their gender ambiguous accounts could mean so many things, yet that meaning becomes irrelevant since one gains an enhanced interpretation of one’s very own life story.

Wild Beasts take great pleasure on pushing the limits of control. Whereas past efforts demonstrated how to be sexually frank in whimsical and humorous ways, Smother painstakingly approaches sinful lust with a stern demeanor. Instead of playing their audience like devilish puppeteers, the gyrating melodies are now wrapped in a blanket that intends to cloak a wounded vulnerability. Hayden Thorpe’s operatic croon has never sounded so poised, even amidst verses that suggest a notably violent nature with a vile and boiling rage. He approaches romanticism with self-conscious irony, pointing a dagger in hand and ready to pounce if he’s wrongly tempted.

There’s nothing pleasant about Bed of Nails, in which Thorpe unravels his most macabre face - I would lie anywhere with you/any old bed of nails will do – alongside a sonic groove that updates Once in a Lifetime with its bubbly synths and constant drum pounds. Thorpe also burns in quiet but dramatic vogue – take the looming piano that augments the tinny percussion in Albatross, in which he sickly devotes: It’s my neck around which you hang/like a chain or a tag. He’s also quick to cool his temper – Loop the Loop synthesizes the question of love as a design with morose repentance, patiently transfixing over a wash of liquefied riffs and soaring cymbal vibrations.

What’s most surprising is the maturing of bassist Tom Fleming as a full-fledged singer. He contrasts Thorpe’s seductive intonations with a masculine croon that could pass as a mournful Peter Gabriel. He’s the more logical yin to Thorpe’s emotional yang  – a bit wiser, much more pessimistic, but still no less melodramatic. He’s also been given the privilege to perform the centerpiece that is Burning, a tenebrous orchestration slathered with slashing synth textures and soft mallet instrumentation that shows him at his most fraught, trying to grasp what has been lost. And when two great voices join together in one song, the results are undeniably superb. The duet in Reach a Bit Further is almost like sensing a double effect, where both exchange words over a misleadingly simple polyrhythmic tribal percussion, providing one of the album’s most animated moments.

Wild Beasts remain very much centered around the beat and the pulse. All the minor changes involved, from the toning down of guitars to the funk trappings, hardly diminish a band that is strictly guided by its syncopated rhythm section. Since all these elements are found in their previous two efforts, it’d be unfair to say that they’re resting on their laurels, especially when they keep crafting them in appealing ways. Smother is an exercise in moderation, trying to find the precise balance between audacious beauty and emotional intelligence. The depraved encounters it presents are brash, risky, and just like its characters, always on the verge of imploding. Even with the suitably inappropriate innuendo, their love-stricken affliction is contagious under any context.