WILD BEASTS Smother (Domino)
If anyone recalls my less than favourable review of The Wild Beasts last album Two Dancers, then prepare yourself for another panning. But wait, this album is actually quite good, and I cant believe that I almost passed on it as I disliked their last one so much. Admittedly a lot of my criticism was for Hayden Thorpes falsetto vocal style, and although that is still present it seems to fit in much better with the music, and is nowhere near as irritating. Lions Share is a good example of him singing as part of the music and not imposing himself on top of it. The backing has been pared back to a minimalist piano and beats as well, and it is instantly enjoyable whereas their previous songs had to be worked at to unearth anything good about them. The languid groove of Deeper brings to mind the sadly missed Talk Talk, not only in the laid-back feel of the song, but also in the vocal department, where Tom Fleming takes over from Thorpe, and as with the last album I much prefer his singing. Plaything tries, and succeeds, in being unlike any other song on here, with its skittering drum pattern and snaking bassline it comes over as experimental and yet oddly accessible at the same time. Fleming takes over vocal duties again for Invisible, and on this one there is more than a hint of Guy Garvey in his delivery, as well as an Elbow-type feel to the whole song. It really does make me want to hear a Wild Beasts album where he does all the singing. Thorpe is back for Albatross, as is the edgy musical backing, and while this is the stereotypical Wild Beasts sound, I now know that they can do better. Reach A Bit Further is a stuttering piece of indie-pop, with some nice keening guitar-work, and Burning shows that when Fleming takes over the vocals the results are not always mainstream indie rock, as this piece is experimental in the extreme. Although Wild Beasts three albums have all been characterised by their lyrical obsession with all things sexual, as Thorpes words are sometimes hard to decipher I am judging their albums solely on the music, and on that basis Smother is easily the best thing they have done so far. They have pared down the backing to the bare minimum, and consequently the Talk Talk comparison cannot be ignored. Like that bands output, these songs are not your typical verse, chorus, verse fare, but more pieces that create an atmosphere, and taken as such I enjoyed this album much, much more than their last one. The coda to final track End Come Too Soon, for instance, could have come direct from one of The Orbs albums, and it is this willingness to experiment with their music that impressed me most. Whether you liked their previous work or not, this album deserves a hearing, and like me, you must leave your prejudices at the door.