Review Summary: Wild Beasts' ascent continues in stunning fashion.
July and August are notoriously sparse when it comes to new music releases, so at this time of year I often find myself returning to the best that the year has thus far had to offer. Usually I spend this period deciding upon my favourites, but this year’s ritualistic jaunt brought no such problem, as there’s one album that stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Hailing from Cumbria, Wild Beasts have spent the past eight or so years playing their own unique and impassioned brand of indie rock. It’s a formula that’s yielded impressive results on the band’s first two critically acclaimed efforts, but even with that background Smother is a huge step up in every sense, and should see its creators recognised as one of the best bands that our island has to offer.
Pinning down Wild Beasts’ sound is no easy task, since it really is unlike that of anyone else. Tasteful and inventive instrumentation is prevalent, though often overshadowed by the wonderful atmospherics at hand which represent the album’s greatest strength. The melodies are undoubtedly pretty, but it’s the effervescent underlying energy and tension which provide the songs with much of their vast appeal. At any given moment you expect them to wilt under the pressure, and descend into dramatic overpowering climaxes, but these moments never arrive, with the music instead progressing smoothly and proving all the better for it. The only potential turn-off point is vocally, with Hayden Thorpe’s eloquent tone having previously proved a divisive force. Those willing to embrace it, though, will discover that it’s as tastefully executed as every other note here, and is wonderfully balanced by Tom Fleming’s more breezy and accessible delivery.
It’s become a bit of a cliché to use for music with rich atmospherics, but this truly is a record that transports you off into its own little world. It’s capable of captivating on first spin, but only with repeated visits does it reveal it’s true beauty. This is just another aspect which makes it an engrossing and staggeringly beautiful listen, no matter how many times you’ve experienced it before. Picking out highlights would be unfair, since each of the eleven songs stuns in its own right. But while they’re certainly able to hold their own individually, their effect is enhanced considerably within the context of the entire record, meaning that Smother truly is an album that needs to be heard in its entirety to fully appreciate.
Wild Beasts have held a stellar reputation among fans and critics alike for quite a while now, but even their most avid supporters would have struggled to envisage them reaching these hefty heights. They slowly and steadily developed their sound over the course of their first two albums, but this third sees them coming near to perfecting it. They’re a band who give off an air of constant improvement, so much so that you wouldn’t bet against them coming up with something even greater next time around. With Smother, though, they’ve already created a special body of work, and as far as albums of the year go it’s going to take some beating. Certainly, if you’ve not checked it out yet you’re missing out big time.