Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Wild Beasts have always been capable of standing out in a crowd. It’s a default mode that goes hand in hand with Hayden Thorpe’s purring falsetto, maybe the most divisive vocal going. On fourth album ‘Present Tense’ however, this sore thumb technique manifests itself in a bolder form. Backing up its overarching title, the band come out kicking and screaming.
You often hear bands speaking about 'three album cycles', and it is easy to pinpoint these turning points in sound for some bands of the ilk of Radiohead who have the smarts and the longevity to keep going on and remaining interesting and relevant into their autumnal years. When Wild Beasts came out with their brash, bombastic and divisive first album Limbo, Panto it seemed as though the raw energy would allow them to glow briefly and burn out in a couple of albums, tops. But, over the course of their next couple of releases they showed themselves to be an intelligent band that evolved their sound delicately and carefully constructed a sound that was entirely enigmatic and captivating.
“With us, the world feels voluptuous”, warbles Hayden Thorpe on Present Tense opener “Wanderlust”, and he’s not kidding—the track feels as supple as blushing flesh, all sultry stare and come-hither curves. Wild Beasts, in a pop landscape so routinely hypersexualized it makes fucking sound as transgressive as a block of mild cheddar, specializes in making the rumor of sex freshly thrilling, mysterious, even threatening. The band’s secret is restraint: it knows implication is always more alluring than vulgar literalism, the tease or the chase almost guaranteed to be better than the moment you actually indulge.
According to vocalist and bassist Tom Fleming, one of the main influences behind Wild Beasts' fourth album, Present Tense, is the pasted-together production style of hip-hop producers like Clams Casino. “The idea of being anti-musical,” Fleming told Dummy, suggesting that knowing how to play an actual instrument will soon be less important than possessing an ear for how music should sound. Present Tense certainly lends credence to the importance of intuition in songwriting, its feverish art rock owing more to mood and motion than the mastery of any particular instrument.
Wild Beasts have always been fantasists: four young men from Kendal who, finding the humdrum world around them wanting, escaped through the back of their wardrobes to explore other universes. Their 2008 debut ‘Limbo, Panto’ invented its own playground of archaic, dandyish guitar-pop. 2009’s ‘Two Dancers’ upped the ante with its paeans to caddish courting and knee-tremblers down back alleys.
The rise of Wild Beasts since the release of their critically-acclaimed debut Limbo, Panto in 2008 has been nothing short of remarkable. Providing a much needed injection of experimentation into the UK music scene, the Kendal quartet’s unique sound marked them out as an exciting prospect amid a conveyor belt of generic guitar bands – with the peculiar falsetto vocals of co-frontman Hayden Thorpe particularly attention grabbing. It was a potential that was fully realised by their Mercury-nominated second album, 2009‘s Two Dancers, which took the clever playfulness of their debut and refined it, creating a beautiful, sonically captivating collection of songs.
There is an odd, strange and lovely quality to Wild Beasts. Whether it is the siren-like slide of Tom Fleming’s lofty, lilting voice or the aquatic, submerged bubble of Hayden Thorpe’s, the band’s sound is built on harmonies, inconsistencies and complex song patterns. Present Tense is Wild Beasts’ fourth album in just six years and marks a broader, slower step in their catalog of music.
Hayden Thorpe sneers "Don't confuse with me someone who gives a fuck" on the first track of Present Tense, as if Wild Beasts could ever be the victims of mistaken identity. The inimitable interplay between Thorpe’s keening alto and Tom Fleming’s rich lower registers, the sleek and supple rhythm section, the immaculate production that provides quiet storm R&B’s high-thread count and funk’s pinpoint precision: you can’t really approach this sound without ripping them off outright, so no one even tries. Much has been made about how Wild Beasts have drastically reduced the musical drama since their swashbuckling, chandelier-swinging debut Limbo, Panto.
More than any British “guitar” band of their time, Kendal’s Wild Beasts’ career has thus far been defined by a healthy self-interest. Successive albums have seen them hone their sound, making increasingly intimate and sonically adventurous records to a point where, distinctive vocals aside, they’re barely recognisable from the band who made 2008 debut Limbo, Panto. With Present Tense, Wild Beasts have made their most insular, meticulously crafted record to date.
While it's not exactly accurate to say Wild Beasts have gotten tamer with each release, it's hard to deny that their music has become far more orderly and considered since the Limbo, Panto days. The band adopted a sleeker approach on the brilliant Smother, so the lean synth pop that provides Present Tense's backbone feels like a logical, if not exactly expected, progression. With the help of producers Lexx and Leo Abrahams -- who have worked with Björk and Brian Eno, respectively -- the group explores territory that is quieter but no less compelling than where they've been before.
"In detail you were even more beautiful than from afar," sings Wild Beasts frontman Hayden Thorpe on Palace, the closing song here. He could be referring to Present Tense. The immediacy of opener Wanderlust, which enters atop a darkly ominous synth riff and exits via an irresistibly venomous put-down, is something of a red herring: the other songs are slower to reveal their charms.
Over three albums, Wild Beasts have rather quickly established themselves as the UK's preeminent band. A Mercury Prize nomination for 2009's Two Dancers opened a door, and there was hardly a better album than the magnificent Smother in 2011. On Present Tense, Wild Beasts sought to push things forward by enlisting Lexxx (Björk, Arcade Fire) and Brian Eno's protégé Leo Abrahams.Wild Beasts have a remarkable ear for modern music.
Much has been made of Wanderlust, the song that opens Wild Beasts' fourth album, and its vicious disdain for the musical peers who have become Americanised: "In your mother tongue, what's the verb 'to suck'?" spits Hayden Thorpe, coming as close to a snarl as that soft falsetto possibly can. At first the intention seems plain: as on their previous three albums, there is no pretence of fitting in. Wild Beasts revel in their idiosyncrasies; you can hear it in the duelling vocals and choral layers, the words that shouldn't fit, the tunes that veer off in unexpected directions.
With three critically acclaimed albums already under their belts and a fanbase that rapidly multiplied several times over, it would be easy for Wild Beasts to rest on their laurels. Following Smother's release in 2011, the band spent the best part of the two years that followed touring incessantly. With life on the road understandably taking its toll, the band's decampment to their then newly acquired East London residencies found them in hiatus for a short while before embarking on the initial writing process for what was to become Present Tense.
“Safe is death.” It’s an adage that’s famous in professional hockey circles, but it also could prove rather useful to musical acts of all stripes. It’s easy for bands to get trapped in artistic cul-de-sacs, releasing variations of a formula until they’re a “whatever happened to…?” footnote 10 years later. Wild Beasts could have been one of them.
Kendal, UK, foursome Wild Beasts took a bit of a sabbatical after wrapping up their world tour supporting 2011’s Smother, their third album in four years. Co-frontman Tom Fleming told Pitchfork last month, “We went away and had a good think about how we could justify our continued existence.” That’s a pretty humble statement from a group commonly criticized for their pretension (the original name of the band was Fauves, aka “Wild Beasts” in French). Some time off has done them good, as Present Tense is their most refined work to date.
British art rockers Wild Beasts may hail from the wilds of Cumbria in the far north of England, but their music has always defied their craggy-landscaped origin and ferocious name: their 2009 breakthrough album Two Dancers and it's 2011 follow-up Smother were sinuously sophisticated and low-key—barbed tales of sexual longing and self-loathing wrapped in sleek, atmospheric indie rock. .
The fourth album from Wild Beasts begins with rage and ends in fragmented hope. Present Tense is an album that shows vast and cohesive development at all levels and take a fast and free gamble with an idea and a sound that could easily have failed. Yet through careful process, thought and order, the four piece avoids sprawling chaos and conceptual farce to deliver something quite transcendental: a modern classic.
opinion byBRENDAN FRANK It’s somewhat ironic that the more Wild Beasts pare down their sound, the smaller their circle of contemporaries seems to become. This thinning of the herd has been prompted by an eccentricity that compels you to judge Wild Beasts only against Wild Beasts. While Present Tense, their fourth LP, certainly has its forebears – Spirit of Eden, Pygmalion, Ocean Rain – there is no mistaking the quartet from Kendal at this point.
After three albums documenting their night-time transgressions comes Wild Beasts’ fourth: the inevitable morning after the night before. A uniformly downcast affair, by this point sexual misadventure has exacted its final revenge, and as though recoiling from the white light of recrimination, the beasts have fled – scurrying toward the dim underground of morbid self-examination that is Present Tense. A weary quiet pervades Present Tense, a notably sombre offering from Kendal’s one-time birds of paradise.
Wild Beasts' fourth album begins exactly as you might expect a Wild Beasts album to. There's a waterfall of processed voices, like a crowded bar with the background chatter sung, a determined, quick-eyed rhythm, out there and looking for prey. The twin voices of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming singing of 'Wanderlust'... "there's a feeling that I've come to trust...