Murmuring in the plague age

Wild Beasts’ Present Tense is decidedly grown-up in its attitude to love and lust, and it’s also home to two of the band’s most foreboding, non-sexual compositions.

“Daughters” is set in the aural equivalent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road—a nightmarish depiction of eschaton where humanity devolves into eating itself. Tom Fleming, his sonorous croon oozing oodles of threat without straying into melodrama, leads the charge. A father surveys his progeny with something approximating fear and resignation. Do your worst, I can only respond by “nailing all my pretty things to the floor”, he concedes.

"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."
“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

But then, straying even further from the tree, Fleming admits he has created a monster, a “destroyer of worlds”—at which point the hitherto weeping arrangement of chilly strings, shuffling percussion and nervous scrapes of guitar gives way to icy, remorseless stabs of synthesizer and uncomfortably tangled loops. That peculiar quotation from the Bhagavad Gita, popularised by Oppenheimer, is refashioned into a vain parent’s lament at the close of the universe.

Later on, “A Dog’s Life” stumbles along peculiar drum rolls, like oil emptying from a drum and trickling into a muted vessel, before expanding into a cavernous deflation. As Fleming narrates the tale of a man’s best friend transforming from dolled-up fashion accessory (“Tie its hair up in a curl / Paint its lipstick brightly”) to abandoned rag-doll (“Lead it outside in the rain”), just the barest quivers of noise tremor beneath him.

Then, the dawning of desolation.

Swirly pads fade to nothing, replaced by ominous groans and yawns of bass, as from the maw of a dying beast. Dubstep made its name on the drop; here, Wild Beasts employ a trick that’s several steps more advanced. The arrangement in the final minute, a heady mush of treated piano and glassy electronics, overwhelms the listener with a steady rush of digital gloop. The dog’s destitution is also ours.

Amidst the sophisticated schmaltz on Present Tense, in which they evolve audibly from “young men to shit men”, this pair of songs, rich in their reflections of end-times, is crucial in our interpretation of Wild Beasts’ weltanschauung.

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