It took me a long time to ‘get’ Wild Beasts. My first real encounter with them came at Live At Leeds 2009, where ‘The Devil’s Crayon’ was a lone standout in an otherwise impenetrable set. I gave second album Two Dancers a spin in the wake of many gushing plaudits in 2009’s end of year lists, and although I was intrigued by the records’s instrumentation, I just couldn’t get past Hayden Thorpe’s voice. But upon re-visiting the album after its nomination for 2010’s Mercury Music Prize, something clicked – suddenly, Thorpe’s voice no longer presented an obstacle, but instead another instrument to bolster the band’s beautiful, atmospheric songs. The turnaround was completed during their momentous, packed out second-stage headlining slot at 2010’s Green Man Festival, which was absolutely a highlight of the weekend for me.
So, now I’m a converted member of the ‘looking-forward-to-the-new-record’, ‘gutted-I-missed-them-in-Leeds-yesterday’ brigade, I’ll probably be picking up said new record, Smother, some time this week. Having had a listen in advance, I’ve found it to be more immediate than Two Dancers – it’s a more restrained, but no less beautiful affair. The album features more prominent interplay between the two vocalists in the band, really taking advantage of both Tom Fleming’s rich baritone and Hayden Thorpe’s flighty falsetto. The theme runs through into the music too – ‘Lion’s Share’ matches up throbbing synth bass with an echoing piano line, while ‘Albatross’ pairs a sparse guitar riff with a minimal drumbeat. There aren’t really any of the big, capering singles that featured on the last record, but that doesn’t matter – this is a masterfully constructed record that’s sure to once again top this year’s “best of” lists, and maybe even get the band its second Mercury nomination on the trot. But don’t just take my word for it – it’s been streaming on the Guardian’s website for the past week, so check it out while you can.
Smother is out now on Domino Recordings.