Wild Beasts had the temerity, or bad luck, or gumption, or something, to release their debut album, Limbo Panto, in 2008, which is, lest we forget, the year I didn’t care about music, and so I had no idea who they were when they began. How much me not being aware of them must have damaged their career, I cannot begin to fathom, but potentially they may have been denied at least a couple of album sales by me not enthusing about them. Such is life.
Actually, to be honest, I picked-up (well, ordered online) Limbo Panto earlier this week, and now I’ve finally heard it, I’m not all that fussed about it, so it’s probably for the best that I didn’t experience their first flush of creativity, because I might have dismissed them as not worth bothering with. Which would have denied me the extreme pleasure of listening to their subsequent output.
I purchased Two Dancers, Wild Beasts’ second record, as my Christmas Album at the end of 2009, listened to it about five times, quite enjoyed it, and filed it away, mentally marking it as “just quite a good rock record”. I think my antipathy was in part driven, ad this may make me sound insane, by the fact that the enormous, praise-laden sticker slapped on the front of the jewel case and obscuring the artwork, wouldn’t come off. For some reason I couldn’t be bothered to switch the case, which I’d normally do. Stickers on CD cases annoy me intensely, and I think I allowed my distaste of the sticker’s grubby residue to deter me from pulling the CD out of the shelves and playing it.
Then, a couple of months ago, I noticed people talking about their new album, Smother, with eager anticipation across the various internet channels I use to find out about music. I saw a hint that Spirit Of Eden might be one of Wild Beasts’ favourite records, glimpsed some intriguing quotes, got the impression that this band had made a subtle, rich, modernist, rewarding record, and felt that familiar desire to dig deeper and prove my earlier, hastily formed opinion wrong.
Sure enough, I love Smother. It might be my favourite record of the year, alongside PJ Harvey and Nicolas Jaar, a trio of white-covered records that are appealing enough to allure at first listen yet complex enough to still be growers weeks later. My favourite kind of record.
I’ve been revisiting Two Dancers, too; I’ve switched the case, taken it out in the car, slapped it on the full hi-fi, and felt it attach itself to whatever part of my brain it is that drives the desire to listen to music over and over again. I’ve had snatches of melodies and words from Two Dancers spin around my head, joining bits of other songs by other artists, songs I’ve known for decades, in symbiotic cerebral mash-ups.
Across Wild Beasts’ three albums so far it seems as if they’ve been engaged, a little like Spoon, in a process of taking away, of calming down, of realising that space is as potent a tool as energy. Two Dancers refined the drama and occasional chaos of Limbo Panto, and Smother refines the noisy surges and tempestuous rhythms of Two Dancers even further. Amazingly, though I adore the pounding twists and squalling turns of Two Dancers, they’ve turned the trick of not becoming staid or boring or loose without them. There is as much drama in Smother, as much sensuality, as much climax, as they’ve managed before, but now it lasts longer, calls you back for more. It’s delicious.
I’ve seen a few people state that Wild Beasts’ antecedents or influences are hard to define; after a decade of LCD Soundsystem literally listing their influences in their lyrics, I wonder if people have lost a bit of the skill of identifying what something actually sounds like if it’s not spelt out explicitly. Maybe a band with a sound not directly in thrall to a previous era’s scene or aesthetic is a baffling concern in 2011?
For what it’s worth, to my ears the pointillist guitars and skittering-yet-lilting rhythms of songs like Reach A Bit Further almost recall modern-day Radiohead, but totally unafraid of being liked, of being organic, of being sensual. That occasionally frenetic sensuality feels like Long Fin Killie. The space and momentum and sophistication being developed in Smother reminds me of Talk Talk circa The Colour Of Spring. I can hear snatches of Elbow, of The Associates… But mostly I hear Wild Beasts.
And then there are the voices: two exceptional, unusual, expressive voices, one a fragile, glass-made thing like a decadent, delicate sculpture of Anthony Hegarty’s intonation, the other a chestier, sourdough concoction, somewhere between David Sylvain, Paul Heaton, and Guy Garvey. Both singers are capable of whooping yelps of pleasure or pain, of dazzling skips across and beyond your expectations. I wonder how much the vocal tools at Wild Beasts’ disposal have influenced their sound; they could never in a million years make music like Oasis. When the two of them sing together, properly dueting with each other, I swoon.
I think I’ve found my new favourite band.