Sunday, March 2, 2014

Album Review: Wild Beasts - Present Tense

Album Rating: A-
Much of the run-up to Wild Beasts' fourth LP has centered around lead track 'Wanderlust,' and in particular Hayden Thorpe's provocative query "in your mother tongue / what's the verb to suck?" A thinly veiled swipe at musicians who decline to sing in their own accents, it's especially apt coming from a man whose flamboyant delivery epitomises his group's teeter between the sublime and the ridiculous - although it must be said that balance is tipping further towards the former with every album Kendel's finest release. Indeed, whereas literate defiance and unbridled eccentricity were once the order of the day, the quartet's craft now settles into a groove of slow burn and deep subtlety; an approach very nearly perfected on 2011's sensational Smother, and now pushed to even greater extremes on this colourful follow-up.

Given the climate in which they operate, you'd be forgiven for taking this "subtlety" as a byword for "minimalism" - but while early spins of Present Tense may suggest as much, the evidence yielded with closer examination depicts the exact opposite. Punctuated more than ever by the swell and fluid pulse of synth, the band's honed and fiercely individual sound is thrust into ever denser and more fulfilling waters, and coupled with their token creative energy manifests in their most sonically expansive record to date.

Nowhere is this shown more clearly than 'A Dog's Life,' in many ways an embodiment of the ambition and lightness of touch they've come to master. A multi-sectioned skin-changer transcending any singular mood, its feats are made all the more remarkable by transpiring in little over three minutes, though the strength found elsewhere ensures it's by no means the centerpiece. Sharing with it Chris Talbot's beautifully tuned percussion and Tom Fleming's sensual, velvety croon, 'Daughters' typifies the textural radiance and vibrant underlying motion present throughout, while the dual-sung 'Sweet Spot' supplies the type of understated hooks which can be acknowledged first time around, yet only work their way under the skin with repeat listens, decent audio and sedate setting.

Universal praise notwithstanding, it's clear that in their hearts Wild Beasts remain a pack of outsiders. Shorn of facile entry points and standout individual moments, you could argue that Present Tense is ill-suited to the disposable means by which modern music is consumed, and perhaps more than any other major album in recent memory sacrifices nothing to surface-scratching scrutiny. Certainly, such cursory listening fails to expose its true depths: the way seemingly negligible tracks converge to form such an exquisite body, the bubbling and frequently riveting stylistic touches which provide its lifeblood and of course the melodic flair which proves so elusive upon initiation. Granted, this goldmine takes time and patience to unlock, and may continue to withhold secrets after five, 10 or even 20 rounds, but with such beguiling rewards the required endeavour could scarcely be more worthwhile.



1. Wanderlust
2. Nature Boy
3. Mecca
4. Sweet Spot
5. Daughters
6. Pregnant Purse
7. A Simple Beautiful Truth
8. A Dog's Life
9. Past Perfect
10. New Life
11. Palace

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