No offence to The Kills, whose album is also smashing, but when I got sent a Kills CD in a Wild Beasts sleeve due to a mistake at the Smashing CD Making Factory, I nearly punched our features editor in the face from sheer impotent frustration.
This is because I was quite excited to hear what the Kendal boys’ third album, out May 9 on Domino, sounds like. So, no doubt, are you. After three greedy-eared spins, here’s some daubed impressions.
Featuring just a simple throb of synth, and Hayden’s fairytale-villain delivery. “I take you in my mouth like the lion takes his game”. Already we’re in a familiar Beasts neck of the woods; a raw, rude, playfully menacing sexuality delivered with the most graceful of tact, like a cock drawn on a school jotter by Raphael. Even more than on ‘Two Dancers’, the melodies and the remarkable vocal interplay of the two frontmen does the bulk of the work. “Boy what you running from?” pleads Tom Fleming, as Hayden wickedly assures us “It’s a terrible scare/But that’s why the dark is there/So you don’t have to see what you can’t bear”.
Bed Of Nails
A very late-’80s, Talk Talk-ish, ‘Wonderful Life’ kind of vibe – subtle, rolling and urgent. Hayden’s voice has grown richer and deeper, urging “Be blatant as a bailiff/I want my lips to blister when we kiss”. It’s lusty and romantic but with rough edges filed down even smoother than the flowing contours of ‘Two Dancers’, even though Hayden’s got pointy lovin’ on his mind: “I would lie anywhere with you/Any old bed of nails will do”.
Slinky and inching forward with an unrolling flourish of percussion and silky backing vocals cooing the title word, as Tom Fleming’s lushly snuggly voice seduces your ears to live in sin: “This is the house we built all else falls away/Ah dare we put our tongues to the flames?/Send the others away”.
Loop The Loop
Rippling guitar arpeggios slide round themselves as befits the title, and another gently rolling, driving rhythm picks us up as Hayden asks “Oh, don’t you think that people are the strangest things/Desire, oh desire is all that the heart requires/Is what it can’t recognise”. Partway through, it breaks into a lull like a forest clearing, hemmed only by piano and Tom’s ghostly oohs, as Hayden reflects “I’ve made enough enemies” like Jimmy Scott trying to remember how Scritti Politti’s ‘The Sweetest Girl’ goes, before he urges to get us to “Forget now how many must die… as many as I remember I must forget/How many do I regret now…” All a bit heavy, but he makes it sound like a jolly, rollicking folksy lark.
A weightier number now after a gentle and subtle start, with brooding (and knowing them, broody) heavy kick drum and rattling percussion. “New squeeze, take off your chemise, and I’ll do as I please” cavorts Hayden (how sexy a word is chemise, by the way?). I’m not even 100 per cent sure what a chemise is, but I’m off to buy one in every colour tomorrow. Like a louche and slightly evil moustachioed WW1 cavalry officer, he pleads silver-tongued “I know I’m not any kind of hearthrob/At the same time I’m not any sort of slob” as synths steam gently up in the background. The chorus is creepy as hell, Hayden hissing through gritted teeth and weird, Horace Andy-esque guttural vowel-twists “You’re my plaything… I’m wondering, I’m wondering, how cruel I’ve been” and the synth fog gradually builds into an oppressive atmosphere.
“I see our enemies/I see them on their knees calling across the floor” croons Tom Fleming in that quite ridiculously rich and beautiful voice, over sparse guitar effects and slow and chiming, gentle synth – it’s a little ‘Never For Ever’ Kate Bush, very calm with a hint of tribal trouble in the rhythm, soothed by a chorus rippling and soft as a river and closing on the quite lovely line “Your lips to my lips/I cease to exist.”
We’ve spotted this bird already. In the context of the album it seems more substantial than it might have alone, ‘soothing’ shading into ‘unsettling’, with something deeply wrong lurking beneath its beauty.
Reach A Bit Further
A jaunty love song, with some fantastic back-and-forth vocals from Hayden and Tom; it’s almost as if Hayden’s playing Silly Morrissey to Tom’s Earnest Morrissey. “I was angry and brash as a bull/You were devastatingly beatiful/I was crude I was nude I was rude… I was not in the mood” larks Tom, while Tom assures “Yes I will do all the things that you ask of me/I said yes I will, darling, I have no fear”. Rich, dark and twinkling like starry skies, it’s a testament to the weathering the storms in relationships: “Tear-jerker, shadow-lurker, wonder-worker, reach a bit further… will you by any chance, remember the olive branch”.
A rattling, reedy, Oriental sort of percussion sound creeps round your ears like twigs or bones. It’s a hymn of praise, with lyrics reportedly based on the overblown existential horror of TS Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’: “I’m saved/You pull my fingers out the dirt/You pluck me wriggling from the world/I’m saved/You cast me up into the wind/You shook my body from your skin…” cries Tom, as very low deep piano notes are rocked by a tremor of massive sub bass. Awesome in a biblical sense.
End Come Too Soon
Probably the meatiest song, this ends their album as it does their live set in a quite glorious post-rocky, expansive fashion, with twin “eee-yeah-oos” calls. In the wrong hands, it could all be a bit Dead Can Dance. But these are not the wrong hands, and its a pastoral, pathological, pashing bit of loveliness.
It will take a few more listens before all these pastel tones and gentle sketches join into a whole picture, but we can tell already that when it swims into focus, it’s going to be a beauty. Spring is normally all about thrusting roots, budding blooms and the springing up of new life, but ours just got totally ‘Smother’ed. We could not be more excited. Now, where’s me chemise…
Wild Beasts’ third album ‘Smother’ is released May 9th.