Robin Hughes reviews Wild Beasts’ newest album, Present Tense.
Three years after their previous album—Smother—Wild Beasts are back. The break was a response to burnout from touring solidly for two years; they have also switched producers for Present Tense, bringing in Leo Abrahams and Alex Dromgoole. Present Tense marks a definite development in Wild Beasts’ sound, while successfully remaining recognisably ‘them.’
The major change is the introduction of more electronic elements, seemingly a very popular move at the moment (see my review of Bombay Bicycle Club’s recent album). It would be easy to dismiss this as crude bandwagon-jumping, given the increasing chart popularity of watered-down dance music, but this is not the case for Present Tense. Wild Beasts have not crassly bolted on out of place dance tropes; in fact, the only real change is the addition of some synth-lines to augment their usual guitar work, and they work fantastically. Opener and single ‘Wanderlust’ boasts a driving, Moroder-ish synth that complements a classic Wild Beasts loping bassline.
The other difference is stylistic and not so much a change as a progression; this album has a darker feel than previous ones. There are three exceptions: the aforementioned ‘Wanderlust’, ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’, which boasts an almost disco-sounding rhythm section, and closer, ‘Palace’. Every other track evokes a more bittersweet, oppressive atmosphere. This is achieved through off-kilter drum work, menacing synths, eerie guitars, and—most effectively—the dual vocals of guitarist Hayden Thorpe and bassist Tom Fleming. Thorpe’s singing voice is high-pitched, almost falsetto at times, and has an innocent feel that often belies the content of the lyrics (from ‘Wanderlust’: “Don’t confuse me for someone who gives a f**k”). Fleming’s voice, on the other hand, is deeper, more melancholic and wistful. The interplay between them is intensely evocative.
Having mentioned two differences in this album, it must be pointed out that there are far more similarities than distinctions; you will know it is a Wild Beasts album from the first to the last. That, though, is a testament to the individuality of their sound; they can change while remaining resolutely themselves. Whilst the album does not take you on a journey —there is little variation from track to track— that is not a problem when the place it inhabits is so mesmeric and enveloping as it is.
Photo credits: Domino Records