Wild Beasts: Smother (Domino) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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May 16, 2011 Wild Beasts Bookmark and Share

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

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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May 16th 2011

Where are you now to defend the editorial line of giving bad ratings to challenging and singular British music, Mark Redfern?? I’m calling you out. What you are gonna say this time?

Just to refresh your memory: http://www.undertheradarmag.com/reviews/these_new_puritans_hidden_domino/

Ed Hewison
May 16th 2011

My favourite album of the year. This review is wrong.

Mark Redfern
May 16th 2011

Well, Dodds, what can I say? We could be soft and give good reviews/ratings to everything and then we’d be told by other readers that we aren’t critical enough. We can’t please everyone. I stand behind a 6/10 for this album. Wild Beasts make interesting music, but I can’t seem to get into Hayden Thorpe’s vocals. As for These New Puritans, maybe we slightly underrated that album, maybe it was a 6 instead of a 5. “We Want War” was a cool song and a great video, but I wasn’t as into the rest of the album. Last year you accused us as having a bias towards British music, which is ridiculous, considering I’m half-British (and was born in London) and over the years we’ve favorably covered tons of British artists. I just did the math and a full quarter of our Top 200 albums of the decade (2000 - 2009) list were albums by U.K. artists. In 2005 we even did a huge special section devoted to the ‘90s Britpop scene. Just because there have been 3 albums by British artists that we gave mixed reviews to that you don’t agree with doesn’t mean that we have some sort of bias.

Kenny S. McGuane
May 17th 2011

Hey, Gentlemen. Kenny here, the author of this review. I guess I’m puzzled by all the hostility because I think the review does a pretty good job of articulating that, while we’re fond of Wild Beasts and think they’re important, we think Smother is an underwhelming follow-up to Two Dancers. I mean, this review is LOADED with compliments about the band. 6/10 doesn’t mean “shitty”, it doesn’t mean “just so-so”, it means “pretty good, but not life-changing.” It certainly doesn’t mean UTR is anti-British. What’s the big deal?

May 17th 2011

A record that demands repeated listens; Smother may appear a 6/10 on the first few spins, but it grows magnificently on every subsequent listen to account for more of a 9/10.

May 17th 2011

Basically you have given a 5, 5, 6 to arguably the best British albums of the last three years.
2009 xx (The only low review on Metacritic out of 25)
2010 Hidden (One of only two low reviews on Metacritic out of 27)
2011 Smother (One of only two low reviews on Metacritic out of 22)

Call me paranoid but the facts speak for themselves Mark, you might stop short of telling writers what to do, but I’m pretty sure you know who to commission to write these pieces, if you know what I mean.

It’s nearly as laughable as Pitchfork giving both The Antlers and Wild Beasts 8.2 but only The Antlers “Best New Music”. Or worse last year, Liars got 8.1 and “Best New Music” while These New Puritans got 8.2 and that’s it.

May 17th 2011

I agree with many of the points in this review concerning the music. I do agree that it could have used a bit more variance as far as tempo goes and more bravura lyrically as in the past. At this point in my listening, I would rate it a wee bit under Two Dancers.

The thing that bothers me is how I see so many reviews making skewed remarks about Hayden’s vocals. Being in choir all my life, the first thing that shocked me about this band was that both singers have tremendously well-trained voices. Tone, vibrato, timbre, all of it is gorgeous. Hayden’s voice is not an affectation. That is the man’s real voice; he’s not putting it on. It’s not a falsetto, it’s countertenor. It is unique for a man to sing in that register. I honestly disregard a lot of indie music soley because the singing is so horrible. I may be a snob and excuse me for being so frank, but these two men sing how professional singing is supposed to be done, and I really applaud that. In addition, their music is passionate and sensual. I haven’t added a new band to my list of favorites in a long time, but Wild Beasts are my constant go-to. They’re just lovely.

May 19th 2011

Screw! Under The Radar! This album is at the very least a 9! They’re obviously in the minority here. They’re just pissed they didn’t “get it.” losers :) This is my favorite release this year! Kenny, you suck! Perhaps you don’t like to be challenged!

Mark Redfern
May 19th 2011

Dodds, you single out three reviews in a two year period and that doesn’t represent Under the Radar’s reviews of British music as a whole. I stand by that xx review, sorry, I was a little bored by that album. Now other critics of ours might disagree with me, I’m sure some loved The xx album, but the writer who reviewed it did not. At the end of the day, all reviews are subjective and don’t always represent the opinions of the magazine as a whole or of the publishers/editors. Our writers are free to their opinions and I don’t always agree with their opinions. There are some albums our critics love that I hate and others they dislike that I love. Like I said, we may have slightly underrated the These New Puritans album. Anyway, a 6/10 is still a positive review, it’s still 3 stars. Kenny is obviously a fan of the band, so I commissioned this review to a fan, but he didn’t like Smother as much as Two Dancers. What possible reason could I have to implement some sort of conspiracy against arty British bands? You say those three albums are the three best British albums of the last two years and I’d have to disagree. One album from an arty British band that I did love was The Invisible’s 2009 debut album. To my knowledge, we were the only American magazine to write about them and we had them play our 2010 SXSW party. I also loved Bat for Lashes’ second album, which came out in 2009, and we had her on the cover for that. So, trust me, there’s no bias against British music, we just review each album as they come.

Mark Redfern
May 19th 2011

As for Serge, Gina, Sean, and Ed, Wild Beasts are lucky to have such devoted and passionate fans. I’m sorry that you disagree with our review, but please know that every time we listen to a new album we are hoping that it will be great, that it’ll be our new favorite album and one of the best albums of the year. Kenny was hoping that Smother was going to be one of those albums, but it just didn’t pan out that way for him and that’s just how these things go sometimes. Hopefully we’ll love the next Wild Beasts album more. We gave Two Dancers an 8/10, for example. Thanks for visiting our website and reading Under the Radar!

Jane Thompson
June 24th 2011

It is very interesting to see how many comments have been centred around the score(6/10). This is partly because they were so used to seeing 9/10 ‘s on average from other reviews. As Mc Guane does give a stellar review of ‘Smother’, so really the score is just a mere indicator of umm, well I’m not sure to be honest. We are all hung up on scores I suppose. But, regardess of the score, the review is as I mentioned in the above, was “Stellar”. So, it does not really matter. It’s very subjective anyway. Each listener gives it thieir own score. I personally give it 9/10.

Jane Thompson
June 24th 2011

This comment is in response to Mark Redfern’s comment that he can’t really get into Hayden Thorpe’s voice. Fair enough, it is not everybody’s cup of tea. But, ‘hello’ how many singers are in Wild Beasts? That’s right, you guessed it ‘two’. The other main singer is Tom Fleming who happens to have a voice worthy enough to be he lead singer of any top band worldwide.
If you haven’t noticed already Mark, that all the songs all the albums are ecletic and I really beleive that one can not make a sweeping generalisation about the entirety of Wild beasts music, that being solely that of whether you like Hayden’s voice or not?  So maybe next time you make such a comment do some homework.

December 2nd 2011

Sorry you didn’t like the album. =/
As an avid Wild Beasts fan; I think this is their best work. I enjoyed Two Dancers a whole lot with little criticisms to make until I heard Smother. Now I know Wild Beasts is a band that with even minimalistic approaches to full songs (Burning, Deeper) they can still deliver; that it’s not all about falsetto and harsh grunts and playful toms and that these guys can continue to evolve with the inclusion of electronic sound-scapes.

They’ve come a long way since Limbo, Panto. I find their albums consistently get better. =)