Hayden Thorpe is Antony Hegarty but beneath him, in place of Nico Muhly’s strings or a tender piano figure, are only chilly synths and caustic, brutal drums.
Wild Beasts’ Two Dancers and Smother were stunners. But it’s refreshing to see a band be as self-critical as Wild Beasts have been in approaching Present Tense, their latest. But is the band’s shift a necessary revolution to prevent inertia’s onset, or a foolish repudiation of all that made them great? This guiding manifesto—be less beardy and chin-stroking, less hushed and polite—is it a case of artistic heroism or antiheroic pseudo-art?
“Don’t confuse me for someone who gives a fuck,” Thorpe implores on “Wanderlust”, the album’s opener and as yet the only song of which we have heard the finished version. Previously, his lyrics dealt in smut and sleaze while the music behind him revolved serenely through cycles of steely funk and burbling electronics. Now, he swears and accuses, atop a harsh yet slightly whimsical arrangement, with a machine-gun waltz for a rhythm. At the two-thirds mark, the gurning synths are effortlessly loosed from their tethers to spiral skywards, like the adolescent offspring of Oneohtrix Point Never. This is far, far away from the delicate filigree and cascades of “Albatross” and “Loop The Loop”.
Concert-recordings of another new song, “Sweet Spot”, further evince the quartet’s return to a state of nature last heard on their debut, Limbo, Panto. The martial drumming is at pains to differentiate itself from the restless, pattering syncopation of songs on Two Dancers like “When I’m Sleepy” and that album’s brooding, Steely-Dan-in-a-k-hole opener “The Fun Powder Plot”. Like a shearing divorce, the song flirts with complexity but ultimately cleaves the band’s history in two. Looming bass-tones, queasy as they detune, unmoored. Unusual sounds coaxed from an electric guitar, quickly recede.
The band claim this new album is at once more morose and more uplifting than the previous pair of dazzling, dirty, dainty beauties. “Wanderlust” bears testament to this: a droning war-cry of a song, it sweeps the listener along in its dual tendencies—escapism, and conflict.