Review Summary: Genuinely different sounding album from exciting English band hits the mark
It seems to be increasingly rare these days that you come across something wilfully different that doesn't smack of some conceited behind the scenes fabrication. Instead of the organically original coming to the fore, one gets the impression that instead overpaid men in suits work out some kind of random formula for passing off garbage as new and exciting, like Simon Cowell plotting a reggae-death metal mash up sung by a Romanian asylum seeker (Susan Boyle anyone?). Or bands trying to sound as wacky as possible in lieu of having any noteworthy talent, whilst music critics positively salivate over the brilliant ingenuity (see New Rave circa 2007). Thankfully, this is one of those satisfying occasions where a band makes you genuinely sit up and think: "oh...yeh... this really is kind of... INTERESTING".
This may well be precisely Wild Beasts’ intentions. Clearly they are not terribly interested in creating music for the masses, but are instead aiming for that oh so elusive golden Pegasus of music: to sound something approaching, (whisper it), ‘unique’. Perhaps in keeping with this, the constituent parts of Two Dancers don’t always seem particularly enticing. For instance, opening track ‘The Fun Powder Plot’ is a mess of falsetto vocals; bizarre lyrical turns; Krautrock-esque metronomic drumming, and a song structure that seems to consist of a series of bridges one after another. Much of the rest of the record treads a similar path, which is sure to leave some listeners bewildered by their first impressions.
However, most would agree that much of the best the music world offers is not built on the foundation of familiar immediacy – this is best left to Lady Gaga, right? Two Dancers serves as case in point. As the listener’s ears attune to the din it crystallises: Vocals that might have seemed pretentious become passionately theatrical, and memorable choruses subtly emerge from tracks such as ‘We Still Got the Taste Dancing on our Tongues’. Furthermore, lyrics like “Any rival who goes for our girls will be left thumb sucking in terror and bereft of all coffin bearers” from ‘Hooting and Howling’, which might have at first appeared at best nonsensical and at worst juvenile, suddenly sound great: darkly sexual and yet playful all the same. Oddball tracks such as “Underbelly”, featuring what sounds like a tubular bells solo of all things, seem quirky without being gratuitously so. With each repeated listen the record as a whole appears more enthralling, more composed, and more nuanced, evidencing a beyond-their-years (all members are in their early twenties) songwriting maturity.
Yet even with the familiarity afforded by further exploration of Two Dancers, it maintains an uncommon mystique. The listener might pick up the odd chord bearing a likeness to the prog-indie stylings of the Mystery Jets’ first record, or notice a nod to Berlin Trilogy-era Bowie, but these are fleeting enough as if to be coincidence. As if to emphasise the lack of a clear blueprint for Wild Beasts’ music, the closest the vocals come to anything recognisable is an occasional approximation of Kate Bush. Furthermore, Two Dancers does not fall into the common trap of equating originality with the rejection of musical instruments in favour of electronica; whilst the production stamp is heavy on the record, it still sounds like the music could be reduced to four blokes playing their instruments and singing.
That said, Wild Beasts can be slightly hamstrung by their own adherence to avoiding type. In their abandonment of most of the conventions of the ‘pop’ song, they have withdrawn from the more upbeat sound sometimes found on their debut record, best evidenced through single “Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants”. Only “All the King’s Men” approaches something of a cheerful swagger, which, coupled with the aforementioned lyrics can leave Two Dancers feeling a little bit morose, like the great lost soundtrack to an Edgar Allan Poe short-story. In addition, no matter how beautifully sung, 38 minutes of almost unrelenting falsetto vocals can be a slight struggle, although Hayden Thorpe’s voice has enough variety to make this a minor criticism.
These minor niggles barely detract from the record. From the moment Two Dancers hits your ears it displays a peculiar, almost unnerving magnetic pull on the listener, at the same time eerie, disarming and uplifting, delivered in a manner which treads a fine line between menace and tongue-in-cheek flippancy. And all the while sounding quite unlike anything else around, reason alone to enjoy this excellent effort.