Release Date: Sep 8, 2009
Record label: Domino
They said Wild Beasts' 2008 debut, Limbo, Panto was an ambitious record. They were right. It was an album that sought to push the boundaries of modern-day art-rock/alt-pop and, for this writer, shifted expectations of what was possible from a new UK act. It was flawed, sure - Hayden Thorpe's Associates/Antony/annoying (delete as applicable) falsetto grated slightly by the album's end, and single cut 'Devil's Crayon' was by far the stand-out track - but it was still a superb maiden recording.
Wild Beasts are certainly one of the most idiosyncratic bands to have emerged from the UK in recent years. Last years debut Limbo, Panto was a brave, bold and at times bewildering approach to a magnitude of musical elements that as a whole was largely successful, if at times a little manic and incoherent in places. Only one year later and we have Two Dancers an album so laden with lush densities and provocative melodies that you would be forgiven for thinking this album had taken ten years to make.
In a day where Hot Topic peddles guyliner to millions of male teenage mallrats, it's hard to imagine a time when glam-rock was truly shocking. But there remains one gender-bending device whose provocative, polarizing power remains undiminished: the falsetto-- a sound that tends to elicit both laughter and skepticism, if not outright hostility. Still, it remains a highly effective weapon in the endless war against safe, overly earnest indie-- and few bands brandish it so wantonly as UK art-pop quartet Wild Beasts.
The falsetto is a notoriously demanding mistress: exciting in short bursts, but you wouldn't necessarily want to marry it. Reaction to Wild Beasts' 2008 debut, Limbo, Panto, tended to diverge along the lines of those who welcomed prolonged spells of "hooting and howling" from principal vocalist Hayden Thorpe, and those who fled screaming by track four. Two Dancers will drive both camps even further apart, but trying to imagine the Cumbrian four-piece without Thorpe's top-end swoops is like imagining a bird without wings.
A more polished, cohesive second album might not have been expected from the Wild Beasts, but then again, their debut didn't exactly play by the rules either. Limbo, Panto was a particularly apt title for the band's first album: its songs were nearly as disjointed -- often fascinatingly so -- as they were theatrical. That can't be said of Two Dancers, which sounds far more inviting; it sighs and caresses where Limbo, Panto stomped and snarled.
Wild Beasts have a reputation as an acquired taste. Last year’s debut Limbo, Panto cemented the suggestion of their early singles that here was a band that is eccentric, ambitious and courageous, content to repel as many listeners as they win over. They created sinister, gaudy melodramas revolving around their British homeland, its romantics and its reprobates with a lurid poeticism of an almost Wildean ilk.
After Limbo, Panto, put them in the unenviable position of having to follow up an idiosyncratic, theatrical and, let’s face it, weird debut album, the members of Wild Beasts did maybe the only thing they could: They got serious. The band’s sophomore album, Two Dancers, doesn’t have any loose-limbed dancing tracks (like “Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants”) or songs about buying fries for an old dude (like “Please Sir”). It is even more melodramatic -- every song here has serious weight, even when they feature lines like “This is a booty call/ My boot, your arsehole” and sound like a post-punk opera -- but it is still every bit as wonderful.
Across the pond, Wild Beasts are being hailed as geniuses, and this time, for once, the UK press might not be freaking out over nothing. The band's sophomore effort is solid throughout, offering a heady mix of shimmering guitars, arty lyrics and creative rhythms that build on the work of romantic NYC indie bands like the National, the Walkmen and French Kicks. [rssbreak] Vocalist Hayden Thorpe's rich countertenor is the Leeds-based four-piece's most distinctive (and at times challenging) feature.
It's hard to think of a recent rock vocalist who has caused as much consternation as Hayden Thorpe, the countertenor at the head of Cumbrian quartet Wild Beasts. There was Antony Hegarty of course, lowing mournfully away like Nina Simone phoning Call You and Yours to complain about cuts to her local bus service, but not even he engendered quite the same degree of critical frothing. One journalist - apparently driven temporarily insane by Wild Beasts' 2008 debut album Limbo, Panto - came to the conclusion that what Thorpe was doing was not just singing in a high voice, but something so enormously advanced and complex that it was "beyond the ken of pop criticism".
These days, it’s so rarely that I’m surprised by music that when I do get surprised, my first reaction is skepticism. Pushed hard to me on eMusic, the first music I heard from Wild Beasts was in the form of short samples, with some chiming guitars, slinky beats, and falsetto outbursts, and it just sounded both musically banal and like an attention grabbing gimmick vocally. I came back to the samples a few times, never convinced, yet obviously still intrigued.