Anohni (f.k.a. Antony Hegarty) and Hayden Thorpe are owners of unforgettable voices. In the past, their respective œuvres were musically distinctive too. As Antony and the Johnsons, there were four albums of East Village baroque pop, ripe with violin, cello and hollow-bodied electric guitar. Thorpe, with his band Wild Beasts, released an imperial brace of manicured art rock, heavy on carnality, sensuality, and bongos. Continue reading There she goes, my ugly world
For when the frost bites at your bones, the air is unfeasibly crisp, and you’re waiting to be carried away on a pillow-like gust of warmth, Clinic (and Daniel Lopatin) wrote “Misty II“. Atop a shuffling, pattering electronic beat, organs quiver and flicker, squalls of feedback caress, and Ade Blackburn looms and loops between the channels, improbably promising both winter’s conquest and its vanquishing.
From the bowels of the BBC, Delia Derbyshire et al coaxed endearingly schlocky electronic sounds from rudimentary, homemade equipment. Twenty years after it started shuttering up for the final time, two bands are channelling a similar approach to very different conclusions. Continue reading Radiophonic Workshop Rock
I said it on Twitter but I’ll say it again: Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Remember“, taken from last year’s Replica album, reminds me of an untethered and even-more-beatless take on Animal Collective’s “#1”. No bad thing: both tracks share hazy, lazy and gorgeous chord sequences and befuddled sonics. In the case of the AC track, the cyclical synthesizer-work spirals inexorably heavenwards; on “Remember”, its place is taken by massed choral chanting, like a demonic version of 10CC’s “I’m Not In Love”.
I don’t feel able to construct a properly ranked list of my favourite albums of 2011—principally because I didn’t listen to enough albums of 2011. Instead, I am posting morsels of goodness on a Tumblr, which you can find here.
Wild Beasts — Shepherd’s Bush Empire — 23rd November 2011
Can you tell a lot about a band from the fans who show up at their concerts? For a Northern quartet who recently upped sticks for Trendsville, Dalston, and whose stock is on the up even as they trade in lithe funk for pastoral art rock, Wild Beasts‘ assembled crowd pretty much fits the bill. Young, well-dressed professionals interspersed with the occasional gaggle of lairy, not-quite-scary freshers. Yours truly, straight from the office of a third-sector organisation; two pints swiftly imbibed during the forgettable opening set from Braids. Snuggling couples lingering behind the bar, all-too aware of the lush romanticism at the heart of Wild Beasts’ recent offerings.
The band begin on an uncharacteristically sprightly note, all thought of Kate Bush and Talk Talk shoved temporarily to one side for the jaunty, swooping “Bed of Nails”. “O! Ophelia! I feel yer fall,” moan the sparring frontmen Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming—the Hamlet reference surely isn’t lost on such a hyper-literate crowd. The former deals in a seductive falsetto (halfway between Antony Hegarty and Kate Bush) while the latter shows off his bluff, Northern baritone (like a more sultry Guy Garvey). Against such distinctive vocalists whirr shadowy keys and delicately textured guitar-work. And, always, Chris Talbot’s intricate, polyrhythmic sticksmanship, colouring in the gaps with deft bongo fills.
From there, the set takes a more sensual turn, with a decent mix of new and older materials. The high drama of “We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues” is followed by the sparse, sub-bass-heavy “Albatross”, for which the frontmen face each other across hefty banks of keyboards, like lovers squaring up for a fight. Respite from the relentlessly pattering rhythms comes courtesy of the post-rock suite “Two Dancers”, its two constituent parts reversed in order and shuffled around. We’re also treated to the otherworldly “Loop The Loop” and the gentle, wafting “Deeper” (both from the recent album Smother), with its muted plucking and pinging synths. Even here, they can’t resist their love of earthier stuff, with cavernous bass tones lurking around the song’s middle section.
When the band gets round to playing the hits from their previous album, Two Dancers, the crowd raise their game. In a live setting, you kinda forget the gritty homoeroticism of “Hooting And Howling” and “All The King’s Men”, and end up bouncing along innocently enough to this scrunchy, steely brand of pop.
Then, in the encore, they plumb new depths, with every ounce of disco-noire potential extracted from “Lion’s Share” and distilled into a heady, intoxicating concoction. The bottomless bass pulses combine exquisitely with Thorpe’s plaintive piano and the additional thump of touring helper Katie Harkin on floor tom. As a final hurrah, we get the epic “End Come Too Soon”, that paen to all things premature, whose rousing first section soon tumbles into a rising fog of quasi-ambient noise, simultaneously recalling Oneohtrix Point Never and My Bloody Valentine. As this wall of sound approaches the unbearable, the band return to the stage, bringing back the original melody for a colossal and richly-deserved finale.
There is nothing earth-shattering about this performance; nothing to place it in my pantheon of live music. But it is a glorious display of a group at what seems like the peak of their prowess. On the basis of it, I hope their artistry continues to grow—even more bass! even more ambience!—pari passu with their popular appeal. There’s something extremely wholesome to finding unpretentious lads making pretentious-in-a-good way music, imbued with emotive storytelling and a very particular aesthetic. Do catch them before they end up in a concrete corporate arena-cum-shed.
Isn’t it great, or at least interesting, when people not really interested in guitar-based music make loosely guitar-based music? The Cumbrian foursome Wild Beasts now make delicate, pattering art rock, under which trickle gurgling, questioning electronics seemingly informed by Oneohtrix Point Never, Caribou and Emeralds. And, when they play London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire this Wednesday, both the opening acts will be experimental, firmly electronic—Norfolk’s Luke Abbott and the droning Braids.
Consider the final three songs on Wild Beasts’ most recent album, Smother. “Reach A Bit Further” lopes along simple, repeatable plucked chords but, halfway through, these are supplemented by lingering synthesised chimes and vibraphones which ultimately engulf the track. “Burning” (see above) is even stranger, with salvaged miscellany fashioned into Oriental reeds and reversed-prepared-piano. As the composition builds, massed wailing voices threaten the prettiness, as do gloaming synth pads and Tom Fleming’s forlorn baritone. Finally, there is “End Come Too Soon”, which begins canonically enough but soon drops out into an ambient, drifting passage. When the song, proper, cuts back in, it harnesses the playful experimentation and spurs it on into the anthemic.
This week sees the release of a new Kate Bush album, 50 Words For Snow. Bush is often seen as a reference point for Wild Beasts: both acts are blessed with easily identifiable lead voices, a passion for the pastoral, and also a similar aesthetic in their arrangements. And, according to Joe Kennedy of the Quietus, other contemporary records evoking a similar mood to the Bush album are from as experimental a stable as the acts I mention in relation to Wild Beasts: Burial’s Burial, and Plastikman’s Consumed. The circle, it would seem, has been completed.
“I want this for my answering machine except it loops for 10 minutes and you never get to leave a message.”
— YouTube user Colunga210
Where they previously rollicked in bacchanalian throes of ecstasy, Wild Beasts now smoulder in the snow, outside a cottage, and ruminate on the complexities of sexuality. On Smother, their third album, they withdraw even further from the boisterous carnality of their debut, Limbo, Panto, and make the steely funk of Two Dancers seem upbeat by comparison. Now they sound less certain of their sex appeal, even as they mentally undress fine young fillies on the heath.
The Kendal four piece’s familiar elements remain, but everything is dialed back, the melodies simplified, the tempos brought down to a slithering crawl, like a Cumbrian Fever Ray. Chris Talbot still reaches instinctively for bongos and rototoms on the off-beat, but now he only feels the need to caress them gently. Toning down the post-rock washes he used to colour in the gaps on Two Dancers, guitarist Ben Little instead works with cleaner tones, and he often just takes a backseat to the album’s more prominent keyboards. Continue reading Wild Beasts — Smother