Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wild Beasts - Smother

This is one of those occasions where I feel like I'm really late on the bandwagon. Wild Beasts are a four-piece "indie" group from England that have been causing a bit of a buzz lately. I didn't hear of them until this album, but apparently they've been around since about 2002. However this is only their third full length LP, following two very well received predecessors from 2008 and 2009. And although this is my first time hearing one of their albums in their entirety, I've heard some of their earlier works for the sake of this review and their sound has definitely been evolving.
Smother isn't too much of a departure from their sound, but I'd say it's definitely a departure in mood. Their first two albums seemed much more playful, where as this one seems almost sinister, but in a very sexual way. Just about every song and all the lyrics on this album are about sexual desire. And normally for me that would get boring after a bit. Don't get me wrong, I like my sexy songs, but unless you change it up and manage to keep it genuine or put an interesting twist on it I will get sick of it. But thankfully this album steers from that, in my opinion. The music itself and the way it's presented is itself seductive, but strange. When the first song "Lion's Share" comes on (if you're not familiar with Wild Beasts) it will no doubt seem strange to you, the vocals and lyrics in particularly and probably even put you off. However as things go on it quickly is very appealing and very addicting, and the second you let your guard down it just grabs you. For me it was a very fitting experience with the context of the album. Because that's just how seduction works. It takes you by surprise and, if it's tricks work, you're sucked in and you're stuck. Within the first couple songs it's performing it's mating dance for you, and then you either stay excited and wanting more, or leaving annoyed and put off. And if you stay wanting more, I can tell you you'll be quite satisfied with what you get.
I had a bit of trouble on how to tag the genres of this album. It has elements of indie, I suppose, and it's influenced by quite a bit of electronics, but I really don't like putting it under either of those blanket terms. A lot of people are calling it "dream pop", which I've had little experience in, so I'm not too sure if that's what you'd call it or not. But it is very dream like, and it does have pop moments, so why not. However I think production wise this probably doesn't fit in with any of those. The production is very clean, little to no reverb whatsoever, which in my opinion is refreshing because sooooo many lately have just been drowning themselves in reverb, no matter what genre they are. I like reverb sometimes but lately I've been getting so sick of it that this is incredibly refreshing. However this album, the vocals in particular, can be kind of hard to swallow. There are two vocalists, Hayden Thorpe, and Tom Fleming. The former singing in a falsetto that seems almost alien like vocals, that can be really off putting at first but you either grow used to it and start to love it very quickly or you'll go in the entirely opposite direction just as fast. The latter however, while being by no means a baritone, has a deeper voice and sings in his own strange way that sounds almost... throatless? I have no idea how else to describe it. Kind of how you sound after you've finally gotten over a terrible cold you had for like a week and your nasal passages are clean for the first time in so long. Something like that. Anyways, in my opinion Tom's vocals don't bring as much to the plate as Hayden's do, and the tracks where he's leading are probably my least favorites, but at the same time I think that without that dynamic there this album wouldn't be quite as appealing. As for the instrumentation, it's incredibly cerebral. There's a lot of percussion going on, and very beat orientated tracks with the vocals leading the way most of the time. And while there are lots of guitar and bass things going on their less in the foreground than you'd maybe expect. Then with the production there are a lot of subtleties going on that compliment the instrumentation and give it more of that other worldly feeling. None of these songs are particularly upbeat either, but not sad either. They fit the content of the song meanings very well though, and on songs like "Plaything" and "Lion's Share" they are appropriately inviting, but in almost a suspicious way. And songs like "Bed of Nails" and "Albatross" give almost a feeling of yearning, just like the songs. Like a desire you can't have, or desiring something that you used to have.
I don't have any particularly big gripes with this album, honestly. However I can say there are some short, rare moments where I might lose interest in the song, although it's usually very brief. It's just there are a few songs in here that at times feel they start to kind of lose themselves and you want it to have some sort of major shift to grab you back. For me these moments mainly occur on the tracks that Tom is taking the lead vocals, which might be my main problem. Others might find his additions more interesting than I do, but this gripe is really the only one that I have and other than that I can say this album has got me completely addicted to it's ethereal take on desire. This album has quite a few tracks that I absolutely love and the rest fall just under that.
I would suggest this to anyone that likes some odd music, or seductive music. However if you're really picky on your vocals, or really cynical about them, you probably will be put off. But I highly recommend you listen to a song or two, because that should immediately tell you whether or not this is your thing. What do you have to lose besides a few minutes? I can see some people really not liking this sort of thing, but those that do will likely fall in love with it. Give it a shot.


Favorites: Bed of Nails, Albatross, Plaything
Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUJYqhKZrwA


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