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Wild Beasts are already onto their second album with Two Dancers; a relatively quick follow up to their debut, Limbo, Panto, from 2008. It suggests they were brimming with ideas after the critical success of the first album and there is no doubt that the enthusiasm to record and release new material has paid off. They have quite simply delivered one of the best albums of 2009.
The quartet from England’s north west have a quirky sound that takes a bit of adjusting to, especially the voice of Hayden Thorpe that soars into a high and slightly husky falsetto amid the sparse and eclectic arrangements. Jeff Buckley is still to blame for many young men singing up the register and more recently Antony has led the way for a sensitive and more vulnerable style of pitch and phrasing.
Musically the Wild Beasts are operating in similar areas to the latest bright lights such as Grizzly Bear and Dirty Projectors. There is little standard drumming and few buzzing guitars at work on Two Dancers. They are more likely to utilize effects and clean tones instead of standard strumming and the rhythm section treads lightly, finding fine and delicate grooves with polyrhythmic shades ever present.
First single ‘Hooting And Howling’ is a majestic song, the perfect introduction to first time listeners. It shifts time and mood from the chiming single note guitar riff (possibly the catchiest hook of the year) through a slow build chorus and back down to some wonderfully restrained light atmospheric touches.
‘All The King’s Men’ displays African pop influences in the guitars and Thorpe delivers his widest ranging vocal performance with some eccentric yelps and low moaning harmonies alongside bassist Tom Fleming. That they can make such catchy music in a challenging and quirky style is where their magic lies.
The two tracks that form the centre of the album are ‘Two Dancers I’ and ‘II’. I is a complex maze of percussion patterns that are both tribal and jazz in nature. II mirrors the previous song’s rhythms after an ambient and dreamy first half but the mood has shifted to a more reflective one, like the calm after a storm.
The theatrical side of Wild Beasts appears on ‘Underbelly’ with Thorpe amping up the vocal drama before we are left with a gorgeous twinkling synth line that stretches to the end of the song, reminiscent of some of Talk Talk’s music.
Two Dancers is a delightfully understated album that doesn’t feel pressured to build to crescendos or make grand gestures. Much like Odawas they have taken influence from the more austere pop bands of the 80s and added depth and soul. The voice of Thorpe is the undeniable star of the show, of which the band are well aware. They place ornate frames around his instrument which draws the listener in even deeper. Just as many people were starting to wonder where original and inspirational UK indie music was heading, here is the answer.