ALBUM REVIEW: Wild Beasts | Present Tense

Rating8square-600Wild Beasts have been on something of an evolutionary arc with each album showcasing their willingness to dig deep into creative corners and musically chance their hearts and heads. Present Tense continues that trend, taking them further into the world of lush electronica.

They’ve always been a band built on the tremendous voices of Haydn Thorpe and Tom Fleming, a strength they readily accept and thankfully exploit, and on Present Tense they’ve allowed more space and complementary sounds to support Thorpe’s sweet falsetto and Flemings earthier, emotive howl. The music now leans more heavily on synthetic and analog sounds – synths and drum machines – yet they’ve mastered the mercurial balancing act of retaining the warmth and emotional connection that is often missing in electronic and avant-garde pop. Daughters dials up drama like a subtler Depeche Mode, harnessing tension and some abrasive sonics to create an absorbing dynamic within a fairly standard song structure. Sweet Spot is just as engaging but it rides on Thorpe’s hooky chorus melody while New Life is Fleming’s strongest vocal performance to date.

Present Tense is an album that sounds and feels intimate. The band feels close to the speakers and the result is an immersive experience that relies on space and simplicity, where less is more. It’s the perfect title for the album as it’s utterly contemporary and retains the tension that always sits just below the surface of their music. This is the most measured and confident release from Wild Beasts, an absorbing hymn to modern life.

by Chris Familton

*this review was first published in The Music

 

DS Top 50 LPs of 2011

2011 has been another massive year for music, at least it feels that way. Invariably the availability and access to recorded music is easier and greater than ever with streaming and file sharing available at the click of a button. Each year I seem to increase the size of my list, purely as a result of the volume of stuff I get to hear. The more I hear, the more I like which is a good thing but it makes year end lists a real brow furrowing exercise – painful but fun for a music obsessive such as some of us are.

This year threw up some new albums from favourites of recent years like Girls, Wild Beasts and Wooden Shjips  – all groups that seem to be refining and improving their music with each album they release. I’ve also been listening to a lot more electronic music reflected by appearances from The Field, Robag Wruhme, Gui Boratto and Zomby. Check out our list over at Komputer Music for more great electronic releases. I’ll also be publishing a list in the coming days of some of my favourite songs from 2011. To the list…

Pure X – Pleasure [Review]

Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost

Wild Beasts – Smother

Kurt Vile – Smoke Rings for My Halo

Destroyer – Kaputt [Review]

Wooden Shjips – West [Review]

Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest [Review]

The Felice Brothers – Celebration, Florida [Review]
Wilco – The Whole Love

Royal Headache – Royal Headache [Review]

Leader Cheetah – Lotus Skies [Review]

J. Mascis – Several Shades Of Why [Review]

Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

Zomby – Dedication

The Field – Looping State of Mind

The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

The Field – Looping State of Mind

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

Melodie Nelson – Meditations on the Sun [Review]

Zola Jesus – Conatus [Review]

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

The Black Keys – Camino

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Gui Boratto – III

Dick Diver – New Start Again [Review]

Nils Frahm – Felt

Radiohead – The King of Limbs

Real Estate – Days

The Horrors – Skying

Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts

Neil Young – A Treasure

Robag Wruhme – Thora Vukk

Jack Ladder – Hurtsville [Review]

Step-Panther – Step-Panther [Review]

James Blake – James Blake

Twerps – Twerps [Review]

Austra – Feel It Break [Review]

Eleanor Friedberger- Last Summer

The Bats – Free All The Monsters

Those Darlins – Screws Get Loose [Review]

Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire

British Sea Power – Valhalla Dancehall [Review]

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Black Lips – Arabia Mountain

Tiny Ruins – Some Were Meant For Sea [Review]

Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi [Review]

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

The Necks – Mindset

INTERVIEW: Wild Beasts

THEORY OF EVOLUTION

Heading down under to play Splendour in the Grass Wild Beasts bring with them a new album Smother that is already garnering critical acclaim for its further refinement of their literate and nuanced art pop. Hayden Thorpe talks Chris Familton through the changes.

The UK quartet from the Lakes District have upped the ante with each of their previous two albums, peeling back the instrumental layers surrounding the angelic voice of Hayden Thorpe and the huskier tones of Tom Fleming and on Smother they continue to refine this winning approach. The band still trade in literate and knowing lyrics with twisting gorgeous melodies but they are now ensconced in a lighter musical palette where subtlety and texture reign supreme. In some ways they are traveling down the same path as bands like Radiohead and Talk Talk –  introducing electronic flavours and straying from conventional form and song structure.

On the second day of a run of UK dates and under cloudy Glasgow skies Thorpe explains how the new record was informed by both lengthy touring and a desire to satiate and musically challenge the fans they met along the way.

When we came off the last tour with a record that we’d tried to make people dance to, with quite upbeat music – we found that most audiences chose to stand and listen and watch and hear the sonics of it so we thought that let’s embrace it and make the most out of that fact that people are listening and sort of try and expand their minds sonically and we’ve become a bit more immersive in that sense. Gigs have to be a mutual thing and work both ways and I want to play what people want to hear, I think that’s really important. I think it’s really mean-spirited to not play the songs people want to hear so it is a case of rewarding people for their patience and thanking them with the songs they would expect to hear.”

“We had some amazing touring experiences, we really did and I think the effect of those experiences was that we came out of that Two Dancers campaign as different people to when we went into it – that’s for sure. It was really empowering in a lot of ways when you come to realise how your music translates. We felt really emboldened to go away and make another record”

“We started writing it three days after the last gig for the last album so we were exhausted and it was quite a transitional time in our life so we wanted a place to rest our head and have this enveloping thing to look after us – it was a consoling, comforting thing. We could have gone and made Three Dancers – a faster, harder record or we could look inward and actually be a bit more dynamic and that is what we chose to do,” says Thorpe.

The band’s writing sessions progressed quickly and recording was an even faster process but Thorpe points out that things were never rushed or forced. In fact, the quick flow of ideas from creation to hard disk was a key part of what they wanted to capture on Smother.

“We wrote for 6 weeks and recorded for a month. We had five months of ideas collected over 18 months so it was just a matter of piecing them together but after five weeks we were twiddling our thumbs wondering what to do which was worrying. We were staring at each other thinking “Shit I thought we were supposed to be panicking”. After 5 weeks when we knew we had a week’s space before recording we didn’t want to take the songs any further before being able to record them because we wanted to capture this element of spontaneity and almost capture an epiphany. The greater the distance between that initial spark of an idea and its realisation on record means you have to pretend to make this sound you never originally thought of so we were really trying to make that gap as small as possible and I think it translates as an energy on the record. It translates as an honesty and though its not always perfect that character of that way of working is far more endearing than any polished, over-edited photoshop face,” remarks Thorpe.

The title of the album works in two ways, one immensely positive, the other destructive, as Thorpe explains when discussing some of the themes of Smother and whether his lyrics are primarily fact or fiction.

“It sums up many of the themes on It’s a feeling really, that sense of immersion, that sense of ‘I love you too much’. That sort of duality between the dangers of too much of a good thing in a way. To smother someone with love is a beautiful thing but if you smother them too much then you kill them, you kill off that beautiful thing. Lyrically we use selective truth. It is about what you reveal and what you don’t reveal and it is about suggesting enough to imply what’s going on without saying what is going on. You always have to leave room for people’s imaginations and allow them to place their own selves in the song. There are autobiographical elements in our songs but they are always embellished and in songs the most normal things are blown up 1000% and magnified. It’s a strange sort of dynamic,” Thorpe muses.

Returning to the live stage has meant figuring out how to play songs that were carefully constructed rather than coming from loose jams. Subsequently Wild Beasts have taken on an additional live member in order to make sure to new songs work in front of an audience.

“I think live you can rely on a directness and human contact to let ideas carry so we weren’t too concerned with replicating the songs exactly, the spirit is the same though. We hadn’t really thought about the live thing so it was a bit of a headache when we came to it. We produced this baby and we hadn’t really built a cot for it. It was important to us on the record and in general that it is always our fingers and our hands making the noises, we didn’t want to strip that away live and become a slave to a laptop or a backing track. That would be really against the spirit of what we do and against the spirit of what people admire us for. We just wanted to maintain the dynamic that we’ve worked on for ten years and just build on it.”

With such a prolific rate of releases the obvious question is… Where to from here? Will Wild Beasts continue to strip back the layers of their music to reveal more of the skeletal purity of their songs or will they begin to return to a denser form? Hayden firmly believes their future lies in the former.

“Ultimately we do have a pop mentality and a fascination with pop in that it has to be functional. Function to me means having the greatest effect on the smallest part. What we’ll continue to do is try to condense things into being as efficient as possible. I can see us going further down that line.”

 this interview was first published in The Drum Media (Sydney)

 

 

NEWS: Splendour Sideshows Announced…

Now that this year’s Splendour is all but sold out the promoters have given the go ahead for the release of the sideshow details so that those of us who can’t or choose not to attend the event can get along to their fave act’s own headline gigs – normally the best way to experience them if you are a real fan. Some of our tips for attendance include…

SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS SIDESHOWS 2011:

ISOBEL CAMPBELL & MARK LANEGAN  Friday 29th July – Factory Theatre, Sydney  |  Monday 1st August, The National Theatre, Melbourne  |  Wednesday 3rd August – The Fly By Night, Perth.

THE KILLS  Tuesday 26th July – Metro Theatre, Sydney  |  Thursday 28th July – Prince Bandroom, Melbourne.

MODEST MOUSE  Monday 25th July – Metro Theatre, Sydney  |  Wednesday 27th July – Prince Bandroom, Melbourne.

PULP  Wednesday 27th July – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney  |  Friday 29th July – Festival Hall, Melbourne.

JAMES BLAKE  Tuesday 26th July – The Prince, Melbourne  |  Thursday 28th July – The Factory, Sydney.

THE HIVES  Monday 25th July – Thebarton, Adelaide  |  Wednesday 27th July – Festival Hall, Melbourne  |  Thursday 28th July – Hordern, Sydney.

THE VACCINES  Tuesday 2nd August – The Metro, Sydney  |  Wednesday 3rd August – The Hi-Fi, Melbourne.

WILD BEASTS  Wednesday 27th July – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney  |  Thursday 28th July – Corner Hotel, Melbourne.

DANANANANAKROYD  Friday 29th July – The Annandale, Sydney  |  Monday 1st August – East Brunswick Club, Melbourne.

WARPAINT  28th July – Manning Bar, Sydney  |  24th July – Jive, Adelaide  |  26th July – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne.

MONA  28th July – Annandale Hotel, Sydney  |  26th July – East Brunswick Club, Melbourne.

NEWS: London’s Field Day line-up continues to grow…

 

 

 

 

A new list of acts has been added to the already awesome list of bands scheduled for Field Day in London’s Victoria Park on Aug 6th. They have now added James Blake, Aphex Twin, Jamie xx, Zola Jesus, Warpaint, Michael Mayer, Anna Calvi, Faust and About Group, the improv ensemble anchored by Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and This Heat’s Charles Hayward. They join DS faves Wild Beasts, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Actress, Ducktails, John Cale, Mark Kozelek, Mount Kimbie (who I saw do a stellar show last week), The Coral and Tortoise.

FIRST LISTEN: Hear the new song from Wild Beasts…

Albatross, the first track from the forthcoming Wild Beasts album Smother has surfaced and you can hear it below. Sounding a little underwhelming on the first few listens, there are some nice soft melodies that eventually emerge amid the twinkling electronics.

The album is released on Domino on 9th May 2011 on CD, 12″ vinyl, and digital download. Smother was recorded in late 2010 in a remote part of North Wales, and was co-produced by Wild Beasts and long term collaborator Richard Formby.

 

NEWS: Wild Beasts announce new album…

Wild Beasts are quick to follow up their 2009 brilliant album (and our fave of the year) Two Dancers with Smother. The record is due out May 9th via Domino was produced by Richard Formby (Spaceman 3, Mogwai).

Tracklisting

01 Lion’s Share
02 Bed of Nails
03 Deeper
04 Loop the Loop
05 Plaything
06 Invisible
07 Albatross
08 Reach a Bit Further
09 Burning
10 End Come Too Soon