Bands can get a lot of flack for championing literary tendencies but Wild Beasts are one band that seems to revel in their highbrow allusions and have made themselves a unique voice in British music for it. Not many bands would have a single with a title like Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants, and as such they can be filled next to These New Puritans, another band whose lofty ambition have left them hard to pin down with obvious genre labels.
The group really hit their stride with the 2009's Mercury nominated Two Dancers and only continued to mature with its follow-up Smother where they began to explore the electronic tones that have come to the forefront of the group’s fourth album Present Tense. As a result the band's sounds has become a little colder and darker though like a film score balances the mood of the lyrics of the two front men Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming. Working with Brian Eno affiliated producer Leo Abrahams, the group aimed to abandon guitars when they began writing these song and though the instrument does still appear it is used like the synthesizers that now make up the backbone of their sound, creating texture and rhythm before melody.
Present Tense's first track Wanderlust begins with the line 'We're decadent beyond our means' though Wild Beasts are anything but decadent, showing an almost machine-like economy in their songwriting. That's not to say it lacks a human touch but it's efficient, not a second feels wasted. Beginning with a heavy 3/4 drum beat that strikes with robotic precision accompanied by choir of processed voices fill out the track in a way that is equally epic and understated. It's relentless motorik beat rides through the track unchanging holding an urgency that underpins the drama that underpins the direct lyrics 'Don't confuse me with someone who gives a fuck'. There are echoes of Bowie's Berlin period and new-wave alongside touches of ambient electronica throughout Present Tense as the band stretches out with smooth electric funk A Simple Beautiful Truth or the spacious sound and filmic build of Pregnant Pause.
There are hooks and big moments here, but they are counterweighted with the slight and subtle. The vocals feel reigned in compared to previous albums, though the melodies of Hayden and Tom still dance around like a choreographed performance. There are very few bands that come up with rhyming couplets like “There is a godless state/Where the real and the dream may consummate” on Sweet Spot that sounds downright poetic under Tom Fleming's weighty voice. The song feels minimal, but there is a lot going on here between the airy guitars and a simple but complimentary synth line that draws the song to its end.
Wild Beasts are a band whose song writing has gone from strength to strength and on this album nothing seems out of place, like the audio equivalent of the expertly framed shot a director like Kubrick would use with every bit of the frame aiding the story, free of any unnecessary clutter. There are no real chinks in the armour of this album, it remains cohesive throughout, though its electronic tones and clean sounds can leave you a little distant at times as if its almost too pristine and meticulous. There is a clarity to the production, clean and clear. With a strive for something smoother, this seems like the band's pop album. Not that the band are aiming for the charts, but the end result is cohesive and accessible. It makes Present Tense a creative and rewarding listen from a band at the forefront of British music.
Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk