When in late 2006 Wild Beasts released their bizzarly entitled first single Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants on Bad Sneakers Records, it was clear they were one of those bands who would go their own way or no way at all. Kendal based quartet signed then to Domino and recorded their debut album, Limbo Panto, chock full of entertaining, operetta styled tracks with range of voice extending from high falsetto down to something like a growl. But it was not until Two Dancers came out that they could achieve their incredibly polished, recognizable sound of sparkling guitar mixed with a bit more balanced vocals supported by addictive drums. And while everybody was wondering what could happen next, guys from Wild Beasts took another slight turn and dived bravely into smooth electronica.
Although the conversion of sound is plain to see, Smother is not a careless jump, rather a very conscious and thoughtful continuation of Two Dancers. It is the next step, kind of a deeper plunge into the abyss. From the very first notes of Lion’s Share the tension consistently rises, never exceeding a clearly outlined border, as if the record’s title has taken over determining the limits. While it might seem these restrains could only kill the possible potential of the songs, instead they do them a huge favor. When you have to operate on a very restricted area, it takes a lot of imagination and artistic sensitivity to come up with beauties such as Albatross and Invisible. The whole available space is carefully filled with silk delicacy of Hayden Thorpe’s voice, guided by echoing piano phrases and gentle beat. The overall sound appears ephemeral, as if it was not recorded but sprayed from above in tiny, almost weightless molecules every time the play button is pressed. The soft electronic groove enfolds each track not interfering too much with the melody but cooperating to accomplish a graceful finish. Smother’s lyrics add a bit of a sexual twist to the equation, but it is not the only subject discussed here. Though the seduction – when it happens – is rather forward, it never gets anywhere near creepy or tasteless horniness. These words paint pictures of a very intimate intercourse of lovers following their instincts, burying their bodies in the ashes of sheets burnt with lust. People are the strangest things / Designed of desire sings Thorpe in Loop the Loop then gives in entirely in Plaything: I’ve ransacked myself / I’ve flat packed myself for your ease. Tension in the lyrics combines with the sensual sound perfectly, soothing the earthquake, turning it into shiver and thrill.
Whereas Wild Beasts’ third album is extremely well produced and its integrity strikes down almost immediately, it requires time to be fully appreciated. Countless brilliant details hidden between the lines pour in with each listening. But the effort pays off, because Smother’s sophistication shines through every meticulously chosen note. Each song of this faultless sequence makes a beautiful sense, both on its own and together as a whole.