Wild Beasts - Present Tense
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. The end of their third album Smother posed an interesting proposition, as it seemed for the band to continue down the path they were heading they would have to go headfirst into Talk Talk-esque neo-post-rock to keep growing - an unsure proposition if there ever was one. Instead the band has taken their time off, put down their assumed instruments, re-tooled their ideas, and almost entirely rebuilt their sound. Their fourth album, Present Tense, is Wild Beasts 2.0.
The lead single and opening track 'Wanderlust' is the ideal palette cleanser for this new venture. Brushing aside all delicateness or posturing that might be expected of Wild Beasts, the song is a propulsive burst of drums and synths, unrelenting for the duration, while ghostly backing vocals wiggle in and out. Hayden Thorpe takes the reins, his voice as recognisable as ever, but with an edge of grit unheard from him before; "don't confuse me with someone who gives a fuck" he sings towards the song's conclusion. This line is emblematic of one side of Wild Beasts' outlook on Present Tense; hubris has always been one of their main tools, but here they don't employ flowery soliloquies, instead they are direct and up front. After 'Wanderlust' the severity is picked up by Tom Fleming on songs like 'Nature Boy', where he details an affair with a married woman; the gloriously dark 'Daughters' in which he discusses the anger of the next generation; and the pathetic existence of a mutt in the eerily grim 'A Dog's Life'.
But the main consignment of Present Tense is not aggression, darkness or anything negative; across the album the overriding emotions are love and contentedness. 'Mecca' finds Thorpe positively intoxicated in his desire for physical intimacy ("just surrender your limbs to my ever y whim, we are lovers, we are cartwheeling. In 'Pregnant Pause' Thorpe describes a relationship so idyllic that they speak in ways that others don't understand ("speak to me in our tongue, when all the other words only come out wrong"), and his infatuation is so great that he admits "sometimes my heart hurts to watch you." "Let your lovin' be the proof, I can tell that it's the truth," he intones gaily on 'A Simple Beautiful Truth', while stunning closer 'Palace' is all about the devastating beauty of his betrothed, with Thorpe admitting "I could learn you like the blinded would do, feeling our way through the dark."
Now, all this could seem stomach-churningly gushy, especially written down on paper, but this is where Wild Beasts' newfound sound comes into play. Without forgetting that in Thorpe they already have one of the most profoundly striking male voices around (and Fleming is at his best here too), the band has found a hidden well of beauty inside by making the synthesizer their weapon of choice. The songs on this album seem to open up like a crystal cavern with myriad shades of precious gems, and when each catches the light it shoots out a beam of perfect sound to match the palette of the passions displayed lyrically. Guitars are still used frequently, but here they are delicately plucked and produced in such a way that each note seems to glisten with sound, adding more shades to this technicolour album. The percussion may not be as pronounced as it has been in the past, but it's as integral as ever. The relatively simple rhythms are the heartbeat of the album, and the production allows them to breathe. In 'Nature Boy' the beats move hypnotically across the channels, you can hear the skins tremble in 'A Dog's Life, the simple kick and snare pattern of 'Mecca' adds to the swirling headiness, and the varied drum sounds adds an exoticness to 'Past Perfect'.
On their fourth album Wild Beasts have made a stunning turn. Present Tense is their most beautiful, arresting and accomplished album to date - which is saying something for a band that already had a high stock of dazzling and inventive songs. They've done this by not only changing their sound musically, but opening up and being more honest. The key lyric comes at the finale of the album, when on 'Palace' Thorpe declares "we may be savage and raw, but at the core we've higher needs." On their past albums Wild Beasts have shown us their savage and raw sides, which have been gloriously charming and exciting, but by opening up on Present Tense and revealing their true hearts, their music has ascended to new heights.
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