Wild Beasts - Smother - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Wild Beasts - Smother

by Rory McKeown Rating:8 Release Date:2011-05-09

If The xx hadn't ridden the crest of a media tidal wave last year, there's little doubt the 2010 Mercury Music Prize would have deservedly fallen into the laps of Wild Beasts for Two Dancers - a theatrical piece of sprawling art-rock; a shining light in a beleaguered British indie scene. The four-piece, hailing from the hotbed of talent that is the Lake District, have spent the past year or so touring the aformentioned record, discovering new sounds, growing as a pack and welcoming a new fan-base thanks to the prestigious nomination.

This period of growth and discovery has birthed the band's third album Smother, a record that ditches the brashness and flamboyancy of stunning debut Limbo, Panto, but channels the rich, emotive and immersive soundscapes of Two Dancers into a mature package. That said, Smother is a dark slow-burner, perhaps too stifled and haunting at points. Gone is the rigorous tempo of fan-favourite 'Brave, Bulging, Buoyant, Clairvoyants', or the drum-filled energy of 'This is Our Lot', and in its place are warbling keyboards, gentle guitar work and passionate vocals.

Hayden Thorpe's unmistakable falsetto voice is in typically breathtaking form and it's warming to hear Tom Fleming continue to capably move to the forefront tracks, like in the finer Two Dancers efforts ('All the Kings Men', 'Two Dancers'), and play off the dizzying heights Thorpe achieves. But does it work? Yes and no. When Smother is on form, you'll be hard-pushed to find a more cohesive, atmospheric record this year, but it can be strenuous at points ('Burning' is a good example of this). Then again, with a title like Smother, this wasn't meant to be an essential summer party collection.

Talking to the Guardian earlier this month, Thorpe claimed Smother was a document of their lives, and it's easy to see where he's coming from in tracks such as frenetic 'Plaything' - a brutally honest account of one's desire for sex without the emotion - and the regret-tinged delight of 'Albatross' ("I blame you for all those things I've been through"). Another high point is succulently layered bustle of 'Reach a Bit Further', featuring Thorpe and Fleming's exciting vocal tandem, and it's difficult not to get a bit giddy over Thorpe's breathless line "tear-jerker, shadow-lurker, wonder-worker, reach a bit further"'.

The concluding heartfelt scorcher of 'End Come Too Soon' is well worth the wait. Complete with shivering backing vocals, trickling guitar melodies, a sinister piano riff and smouldering vocals from Thorpe once again, it drags Smother out of the claustrophobic quagmire to give the album a magnificently uplifting ending. Smother isn't for everyone and it's sure to disappoint fair-weather fans of Limbo, Panto or Two Dancers. It's as impressively handsome as the band itself, boasting a pallet of diverse tones and mouth-watering musicianship, but can it hold up to the striking class of Two Dancers? I'm not so sure, but Wild Beasts will continue to break new ground, inspire and rightfully reap the plaudits.

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