Album Review: Wild Beasts

Wild Beasts, Smother

I had high expectations for the Wild Beasts’ latest album, Smother, which was released on Tuesday. I was mildly obsessed with their last record, Two Dancers, which definitely made my list of the five best albums of 2009; the band was also nominated for the U.K.’s Mercury Prize alongside one of my other top-fivers, the xx (who subsequently won).

Lead singer Hayden Thorpe’s throaty falsetto sounds like a mashup of Antony Hegarty (of Antony & the Johnsons) and Elbow’s Guy Garvey — his voice, warbling in shades of melodrama, is at once delicate, arresting, and undeniably moody. A knack for beat-driven tunes about voracious yearning, swirling and murky ballads meant for twilight shenanigans, and an overall beautiful weirdness are all part of the reason I still haven’t been able to get the twist out of my knickers.

Smother is decidedly more downtempo, and I get the distinct impression Wild Beasts are taking themselves even more seriously this time around. Tracks like “Deeper” and “Burning” amble along almost aimlessly, while the album’s first single, “Albatross” layers the band’s unmistakably tender melodies over piano and sparse percussion. The pop-minded sensibilities of tracks like “We Still Got the Taste Dancin’ on Our Tongues” have been replaced with atmosphere and drama. And it’s a sad departure for me. I love the Beasts’ style, but those foot-tappers provided the perfect contrast against their more somber songs. While solemnity remains front and center on this album, it is indeed done in an exceedingly masterful way; but while Two Dancers was an instant attraction, Smother is more of a slow warm.