When U.K. quartet Wild Beasts released their second full length album Two Dancers in 2009, it seemed imminent that the lads were on the verge of something big. This wasn’t your father’s English import rock ‘n roll band of yesteryear; these guys offered something different. Lush, melancholy melodies drifted over perfect percussive parts to combine with Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto and at times operatic voice. Coupled with Tom Fleming’s baritone vocal style, it was an album that offered something completely exciting and new from across the pond. Flash forward to 2011 and the release of the group’s third record Smother, where the Beasts pick up exactly where they left off.
The first noticeable difference on Smother in relation to previous efforts from Wild Beasts would be the use of synthesis throughout the album. Not that the band didn’t use synthesizers in the past, but they were used as complements to an already outstanding arrangement of reverb soaked guitar and bass melodies. More songs on Smother seem to be built around the use of the synthesizer versus using it as an extra tool. The album opener, “Lion’s Share,” is a prime example of such songwriting. Fairly minimalist from the production stand point, the track is perfect for setting the dark, and at times, eerie mood for the rest of the album. It gives Hayden Thorpe plenty of space to weave in his trademarked (and clearly practiced) operatic vocal style. Another such track, built largely around synthesis (and without the use of any percussion) comes later in the album with “Burning.” This time, it’s Tom Fleming’s turn to take lead vocal duties, and his approach is at the same time different and similar to Thorpe’s in such a manner that they work perfectly together. The early highlight from the album is second track “Bed of Nails.” This is the first song on the record that really showcases the drumming of Chris Talbot. Easily one of the more innovative percussionists in indie music these days, Talbot keeps perfect time for Ben Little’s finger picked guitar subtleties that float along in the background with various synthesized textures. “Albatross” is the first single released for the album, and is also one of the stand out tracks on Smother. It follows the theme of the rest of the record; moody, melancholy, and overtly sexual. The album closes out with the stellar and epic “End Come Soon,” where Thorpe sings “the end, it comes too soon.” Which is exactly how the listener feels when the album is over.
The follow-up to 2009′s Two Dancers could have easily been a let down. After all, how do you beat an album that was nominated for the Mercury Prize in England? Hard as it may be, Wild Beasts have achieved matching, if not out doing their previous effort with Smother. It’s a perfect and natural evolution for the band that maintains the operatic vocals and soothing production while staying dark in mood. The band did an excellent job weaving more synthesis into its productions, creating a richer, fuller sound than they last achieved. It’s a sonic masterpiece that leaves the ears wanting more when the 10 songs come to a close. Easily one of the best of 2011 so far.
Rating:Written by Brad Walker [itunes link="http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/lions-share/id431287510?uo=4" title="Smother on iTunes" text="Smother on iTunes"] Smother on Amazon