Wild Beasts - Smother
Smother, third album from Kendal band Wild Beasts is a stunningly beautiful sonic experience that is both utterly original yet still accessible. With the magnificent vocals pouring themselves over the clever lyrics and the understated yet sumptuously textured melodies, this is one album that is a joy from start to finish. Gone are the over-the top vocal acrobatics and jaunty melodies of earlier work. Here the production is restrained, the melodies low-key and subtle. There is a tension, a menace, that runs all through the album. If you try to smother something it will struggle to break free, as the songs, and the characters that populate them, try to do. The result is a glorious sort of expectation and suspense.
'Lion's Share' starts off bit like an operetta with Hayden Thorpe's evocative voice playing over the simple melody: "I took the lion's share / Not cos I didn't care / Just cos I knew it was there." The sinuous 'Bed of Nails' and 'Deeper' are unctuous and move along at a slow, sensual pace. The sinister 'Plaything' with Thorpe in the role of sexual predator is at once startling and mesmerizing. The electronic beats and understated percussion adds to the feeling of unease: "New squeeze, take off your chemise / And I'll do as I please / I know, I'm not any kind of heart-throb / But at the same time, I'm not any sort of sloth / You're my plaything."
The lovely 'Invisible" is in stark contrast to the sexual tension of 'Plaything' with Tom Flemming's soft voice serenading us like a lover. The song eases serenely along with a soft piano and subtle beats framing the sensuous vocals. 'Albatross' and 'Reach a Bit Further' demonstrate the band's ability to write catchy melodies while hanging onto their startling originality. In 'Reach a Bit Further' Thorpe and Flemming trade off vocal duties, the lyrics dance along the sprightly melody as their voices soar above. 'Burning' has the feel of a Japanese shadow play, its delicate strings just ever so slightly out of sync with Flemming's brooding voice. The result is a stunning piece of minimalist musical orchestration and one of the highlights of the album. Closing track, the seven minute 'End Come Too Soon' feels like it should belong on a Sofia Coppola film soundtrack or U2's Unforgettable Fire. Expansive and dreamy it weaves along changing direction like a meandering stream taking its time, the voices playing along in the background just out of reach of the playful melody.
Smother is most certainly one of the finest albums released in 2011 so far. Beautiful, haunting and thoroughly enjoyable, Wild Beasts have created something that is truly remarkable.