Tuesday, 25 February 2014

REVIEW: Wild Beasts - Present Tense



Pressing play on Present Tense, it’s easy to feel like a mother watching her first born child go off for their first day of ‘big' school. I am a woman wracked with fears. I fear that the band who have made my favourite record of all time in the form of 2011’s Smother, a delicate and wondrous encapsulation of loneliness, heartbreak and stunning melancholy, may have lost their intimacy. I fear that they’ve always been a shy child, and I fear that these new, older synths they’ve been hanging around with might not understand their fragility, that I’ll end up having to come and pick them up at the end of the day bruised and battered. I’ve grown to love this band for their cloaked romance and dulcet melodies, and can't help feeling like they’d be better off home with me. Maybe they’ll be old enough to enrol next year.

But like all children become too soon, Wild Beasts are all grown up. Luckily, however, they haven’t turned wayward just yet. instead, Present Tense sees them do what all great bands should do -  take the hallmarks that make them brilliant and different, and experiment,  pulling it in different directions until we left with a record that sways elegantly between it’s past and the future.

We’ve all heard Wanderlust, the pacey, ominous opener that is somewhat of a red herring amongst an altogether more subtle record. It’s opening lyric acts as both a promise and a threat - ‘We’re decadent beyond our means/We feel the things they’ll never feel.’ As so in lies the essence of Wild Beasts - they capture emotions in technicolour, think at a higher level than us mere mortals. They’ve always been a band who take the most mediocre of emotions and turn them cinematic, but the lyrical matter of Present Tense is altogether wider than Smother, and lot further from the surface. Whilst they are a band that will always deal in sex, they do so with grace and glorious pretension that always saves it from becoming seedy. Sweet Spot could have settled comfortably in the darker echelons of Smother, Thorpe begging ‘don’t make me suffer for that/just allow me the final divine act’ over pounding tribal drums, pulsing synths and head-spinning piano, with Pregnant Pause is taut with swooning melodies and almost emo romance: 'sometimes my heart hurts to watch you…speak to me in our own tongue’ . As always, it is up to Tom Fleming to gird his co-vocalists loins, and he does so with aplomb on the Bullish Nature Boy and A Dog’s Life, surely the most affecting song ever written about the demise of a canine.

Much a critical fuss has been made about one track in particular: A Simple Beautiful Truth, which marks the switch where Present Tense flips from being 'Smother with synths’ to an altogether different offering. It’s undoubtedly the nearest they’ve ever come to a commercial single both lyrically and musically, boasting a riff not a million miles away from Naughty Boy’s summer smash ‘La La La.’ For us, it pales into insignificant beside Past Perfect. It won’t scream to you on a first listen, but a few rotations reveals it to be elegantly sexy in the polar opposite to Smother - instead of being sat on the sidelines, wistfully looking on and waiting to be asked to dance, it’s in the middle of the room, revolving slowly alone for everyone to admire it’s party dress, shrugging glitter off it’s shoulders. It’s the sort of song Arcade Fire would have killed to put on Reflektor, and is the record’s biggest surprise by far.

In many ways, Present Tense was written for the dance floor, albeit a hipster, 'private party for two' kind of dance floor. My only criticism is that occasionally I can’t help wishing the synths were lower in the mix in order to allow the more intricate vocal flourishes of Thorpe and Fleming to be truly appreciated. That aside, they have crafted a collection of songs that expands their lyrical repertoire and in the form of closer Palace, possibly their first ever song that would be suitable for a Wedding, or to close a festival with. Whilst it’s hard to improve on perfection, they’ve given in a good old crack in a way that doesn’t force them to stagnate, and for that, they deserve to be top of the class.

Watch 'Sweet Spot' below:




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