May 16, 2011 Web Exclusive
Few are on the fence about Wild Beasts: You’re either madly in love with the Kendal, England four-piece or you find them alienating and off-putting. Either way, Wild Beasts have, for better or worse, refined a distinct and singularly affecting musical aesthetic, which is an achievement that commands respect all its own. Sensual, haunting, and inimitably bizarre and beautiful, their third album, Smother, is 10 tracks of the Beasts at their most vulnerable. But whereas its Mercury-prize nominated predecessor, Two Dancers, was an uppity, avant-garde, guitar-driven, electro-tinged, half-dance record of the highest order, Smother picks up where the former left off on its quietest and most poignant moments. Virtually all of Smother sounds like the logical extension to Wild Beasts slow-burners such as 2009’s “When I’m Sleepy” or “Two Dancers (ii).” It’s not as though Smother isn’t at all percussive, because it is. But here the percussion is subtler, gentler, such as on the pulsating and airy “Loop the Loop” or the spacious and provocative “Plaything.” Still, it’s hard not to be frustrated by the absence of any real body-movers.
Then again, it’s unclear just how much Wild Beasts really aim to please, since they’re very obviously unconcerned with vapid pop conventions. Aesthetically, Wild Beats very nearly defy criticism. Both Hayden Thorpe’s sumptuous falsetto and Tom Fleming’s rich antidote-of-a- baritone push and pull us back and forth between the captivatingly weird and the strikingly warm and beautiful. Fleming’s vocal lead on the cyclical and dark sixth track, “Invisible,” is unnervingly juxtaposed against Smother’s seventh track and first single, the strange and metaphorical “Albatross,” which is fully immersed in Thorpe’s twisted and hushed castrati vibrato. As Wild Beasts records tend to go, Smother is par for the course in terms of its opulent eccentricities and its magnificently polished arrangements. This time around, though, the Beasts have been tamed. Frankly, that’s a disappointment, because it’s when Wild Beasts are mischievous and uninhibited, when they’re “hooting and howling,” that they’re at their most charming and enchanting. (www.wild-beasts.co.uk)
Author rating: 6/10
Average reader rating: 9/10