Possibly the only band to harness the arrangement skills and sensitivity of three of Britain’s most distinctive acts, namely The Blue Nile, Kate Bush and The Associates, Wild Beasts have honed their own craft to near perfection over their second and third albums; ensuring they have become a unique foundation in British indie in the process. Judging by ‘Present Tense’, they have opened up the window to their souls a little further.
It begins, unusually, in rather brash mode. ‘Wanderlust’ could be the opening to a Hot Chip record and continues to build on energetic rhythms whilst Hayden Thorpe’s seemingly soothing tones invoke all kinds of suggestions on some overtly priapic lyrics (“In your mother tongue, what’s the verb “to suck””). ‘Nature Boy’ arguably goes even further back through the annals of synth pop, employing similar keyboard melody to those used on The Human League’s early records. This time Tom Fleming is employed to take the lead; his baritone the brooding foil to Thorpe’s sexualised cooing.
Quite often Wild Beasts are stronger on mood and texture than actual hooks and so it proves for those first two tracks. However, the ambient pop of ‘Mecca’ has a universal appeal with Thorpe on his best form guiding the melody. One could argue this is the closest Wild Beasts get to Coldplay but don’t let that put you off. ‘Sweet Spot’ is more like the Wild Beasts of previous albums, constructed from subtle but nagging hooks and the decision to team up Fleming and Thorpe on harmonies was an inspired one. ‘Daughters’ begins in even subtler fashion but from its shuffling arrangement to its eventual refined techno finale, this song is an eerie minor classic and contains the album’s most harrowing words such as “All the pretty children sharpening their blades”.
After this, there’s perhaps a necessary toning down of drama so ‘Pregnant Pause’ and ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ present a classy kind of pop soul; the immediacy of the latter making it the obvious choice for a single. So after the curiosity that is ‘A Dog’s Life’, the tightly-wound ‘Past Perfect’ recovers the band’s early intensity (quite literally in fact given that Thorpe keeps repeating the line “It’s tense for me”) and on ‘New Life’, Fleming’s overt masculinity contrasts beautifully with a floating bed of understated, shimmering electronica. Then, after a somewhat downbeat passage of music, the album possibly required a final lift and ‘Palace’ responds with the most optimistic moment on the record.
With every subtlety and shift, ‘Present Tense’ revisits Britain’s sensual, moody past and looks tentatively to the future on an impressive fourth album. It reaffirms the idea that Wild Beasts remain a very special act and they seem incapable of putting a foot wrong right now.
The Associates, Kate Bush, Hot Chip