Wild Beasts: Present Tense

source: Domino Records

Text Khalid Azizzudin

Wild Beasts’ fourth studio album was given shape in vastly different circumstances than its predecessors. They had up to that point released three albums of ornate pop in thrall to carnal desires, each more refined than the last. Unlike their past work, Present Tense was gradually pieced together song by song, given a year to decant. The initial conception was that the album would not feature guitars but instead roundly electronic instrumentation. Pursuant to this, Leo Abrahams (Brian Eno’s Small Craft on a Milk Sea) and Lexxx Droomgoole were recruited in place of longtime producer Richard Formby.

The first track of the album, ‘Wanderlust’, sounds like it well should. It opens with four descending ominous synth chords, the last one is crackling, decaying around the edges. But seconds later, a whirling maelstrom of high pitched voices edge in as accompaniment. Different, but it in the same vague Wild Beasts palette of slightly unsettling lyrics sung in baritone entwined with falsetto (it is much more refined now). Sonically, the rather linear arrangement is surprising as the fiercely talented multi-limbed Talbot is relegated to a simple forward facing beat. Halfway through, fractured synths filter upwards as the bass drum builds a two-beat underneath Thorpe’s contemptuous croon “… don’t confuse me with someone who gives a f*ck.”

‘Mecca’ exposes a populist pop bent heretofore concealed. Hallmarks of the Saturday night banger are all present; the minimally backed intro verse, the pause before uplifting synths and thunderous drums rush in, and lyrics which could script dancefloor dalliances (“Surrender your limbs to my every whim”) – a genuine hands in the air moment when Thorpe is triple-tracked in the final chorus. Moving onward, the gloriously rude ‘Sweet Spot’ witnesses the resurgence of Thorpe’s lascivious quiver as he ruminates “between bone-dry, and the dripping wet,” over fuzzy chords. By and large however, this album lacks the bawdy, priapic come-ons of its predecessors. Even Thorpe’s divisive falsetto is not as keening, inhabiting a mid-tone velvety register.

For a band that made a living off writing elegant paeans to desire, they begin to sound rather content.  On ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’, specifically the line “Let your loving be the proof, I can tell it is the truth,” the reason is evident. In an interview with The Guardian, Hayden Thorpe admits cowardice behind the impenetrable, elusive lyrics of their past material and a conscious effort to be less coded now. If nothing else, they deserve accolades of the highest order for getting away with such an unwieldy phrase in this delicate mid-album pop highlight. The lush ‘Palace’ ends the album. After the sharing in the tumult of their past albums, it is hard to remain the passive observer with a realisation like “Winter was long but now we’ve come to feast, we may be savage and raw but at the core, we’ve higher needs.”

This collection of songs is hardly an ode to wicker rocking chairs and hot water bottles, Wild Beasts have clearly spent a few quiet nights in since their last outing. But with singularity of vision and deep wells of talent, they have managed to make settling down sound every bit as vibrant and nuanced as youth’s heady hedonism. It is with cruel hearts we wait, hoping middle age brings turmoil, if only for the gems it may birth.

LISTEN TO: ‘Mecca’

1. Wanderlust
2. Nature Boy
3. Mecca
4. Sweet Spot
5. Daughters
6. Pregnant Pause
7. A Simple Beautiful Truth
8. A Dog’s Life
9. Past Perfect
10. New Life
11. Palace