Album Review: Wild Beasts – Smother
31 May 2011
Last year, in the lead up to the 2011 festival, we started up a feature album series, in which we took a closer look at some great albums we couldn't stop listening to from the likes of Warpaint, The Antlers, Bear In Heaven, Stornoway and Menomena.
Since the 2011 festivals wrapped up, awesome records have continued to roll across our desks with alarming regularity. So, in the lead up to the 2012 festival (and beyond), we're keeping the series going. Each month, Laneway staff and friends of the festival will be writing about excellent albums from all over––starting with Wild Beasts' Smother.
Wild Beasts: Smother
By Blake Rayner
Carnal, dark and quietly unsettling, UK indie rockers Wild Beasts' third record, Smother, carries their self-described 'erotic downbeat music' into deeper territory.
If their 2008 debut LP Limbo, Panto was an anthemic, lustful cry from the Lake District four piece, and 2009's critically lauded Two Dancers a driving piece of pseudo-sexual poetry, Smother is a post-coital moan, equal parts regret and longing.
But it's what's not there that most distinguishes Smother from its predecessors. There's an enormous sense of restraint all over the lp: gone is the distortion that featured so heavily on Two Dancers' sleaziest moments (see the climax of 'When I'm Sleepy'), as is the tortured yelping of 2009 single 'All The Kings Men'.
Listening to Smother, you can almost hear the band paring back each track, pulling pieces of instrumentation away until it almost hurts. Less is definitely more here, and for very good reason––the record's spaciousness leaves just the right amount of space for singer Hayden Thorpe's lustful musings.
The tuned, close-grained percussion on 'Bed of Nails', 'Plaything' and 'Deeper', the simple angular guitar work on 'Reach A Bit Further', the cinematic piano roll of first single 'Albatross', the jangly slow-burn of album closer 'End Come To Soon' ––all across Smother, the playing is just enough, creating a deceptively simple, intricate nest for Thorpe's borderline indecent mutterings.
In the rare parts where the focus shifts away from Thorpe's dramatic, quivering falsetto, the music is spacious and inviting. Mostly, though, Smother is aptly titled––it's hard to escape the record's blanketing, raw intimacy.
Two very different voices weave through Smother's ten tracks. Co-frontman Tom Fleming occupies the lower register on cuts like slow burner 'Deeper', Thorpe's voice providing a distant echoed accompaniment. The steady angles of 'Reach A Bit Further', meanwhile, feature both singers, Fleming taking the verses and Thorpe stepping in for the tangled chorus.
Tonally, Thorpe exhibits remarkably equal levels of carnal exploration and withering restraint. Lyrically, it's more of the former. On 'Lion's Share', for instance, he sings 'I take you in the mouth / Like a lion takes his game', which, depending on your imagination and internal borders of decency, is either a Shakespearian cry or a reeling, raw statement of sexual intimacy. Yikes.
Smother's powerfully spare intimacy recalls, at times, 80s pioneers Talk Talk, but, ultimately, this is an album that stands on its own. Following on from two excellent lps, Wild Beasts have managed to knit together an aching, truly dangerous experience that should cement them as a unique entity in modern British pop.