Wild Beasts remain firmly on their upward curve. From their frenetic beginnings on debut Limbo, Panto to the sonic landscaping of Two Dancers and Smother, they have remained enigmatic, eclectic and almost undefinable. With Present Tense, nothing changes.
Chris Talbot’s tribal, off-kilter drumming remains. So do Tom Fleming’s warm, tonal vocals beneath the soaring, operatic dynamism of Hayden Thorpe. Ben Little’s guitar is sparser, but beautifully arranged as always. So, what is new? Well, in purely song-writing terms, Wild Beasts are darker and bolder than ever before.
Wanderlust may not have been the most pragmatic choice as lead-off single, but as the album opener it is wonderfully apt. Initially more befitting of a place on the soundtrack to Nicolas Winding Refn’s magnificent ‘Drive‘ than a Wild Beasts album, it gradually takes shape as light seeps through the dark electro drone. ‘Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck’ sings Hayden Thorpe throughout a shimmering outro completely at odds with his abrasive statement. When the song ends with electronic feedback and a familiar bongo beat signalling the start of ‘Nature Boy’, you’d be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief that the so-called Wild Beasts haven’t strayed too far this time.
But the point is that they have always ventured from the beaten path. Take ‘Daughters’ for instance. A slow-burning lament about its titular subject that on the three minute mark, and specifically the lyric ‘You broke my little girl/Des-troy-er of worlds’, descends into a hypnotic dub breakdown. Similarly, ‘A Dog’s Life’ actually appears to be a lusciously dramatic rendering of a dog’s tale: ‘Left outside in the rain/Tie it up and pat its head/Never speak of it again’ that proves far more emotional and climactic than it has any right to be. Far from being gratuitous, this flamboyance has and always will make Wild Beasts so uniquely appealing.
Of course, all their nuance would be worthless without their obvious talent as songwriters and this is perhaps more prevalent than ever on Present Tense. ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ showcases all this and more; a five note synth riff, off beat bass drums and palm muted guitars surround Thorpe and Fleming as they exchange melodies. The juxtaposition of their vocal styles is a well-rehearsed trick in the Wild Beasts repertoire, yet it never grows old. At just over two minutes, it serves as an epithet for the band’s continued excellence – they’ve done it again and it just seems so… effortless.By Kyle Picknell