Review Summary: An inchoate howl for humanity in the darkness of its existence.
Like the best of UK music in the last couple of years (The XX, James Blake, These New Puritans, Foals), Wild Beasts seem to have subscribed albeit tentatively to a minimalist credo. Gone is the raucous tomfoolery and lyrical playfulness of Two Dancers
with its tittering focus on body parts and functions. Instead, a deep restraint, something darker. Riffs repeat and then some more, as if searching for meaning. The songs don’t develop or progress, but are constructed only to be deconstructed, and by such a reductive process reveal the motifs that underpin them. Smother
feels - well exactly that - smothered, flattened, with all flippancy and frivolity removed.
It is the percussion here that drives and defines: the rotal beats of ‘Lion’s Share’, the tribal toms of ‘Plaything’, the jungle pulses of ‘Reach a Bit Further’, the tick-tocking urgency of ‘Invisible’. Around these polyrhythms are swaddled cascading piano lines, an arpeggioed guitar, a swathe of synthesiser. Above all these are tonal songs sketched out in textures, not so much what is put in as what is left out; they’re about holding back, about setting a mood.
This softness can have you drifting drowsily, dreamily suffused in warmth, thinking there is no bite. But listen to the words and the circadian rhythms do not lull but jolt. Referencing Shakespeare (the doomed purity of Hamlet’s Ophelia), the guilt complex of Coleridge’s Albatross and the-life-as-monster that is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, what we are hearing are not comforting whispers, but existentialist howls. “Your lips to my lips, I cease to exist” is the understated croon.
Take the closing song, where musical counterpoints entwine and subside, fragment and coalesce. Eight minutes, seeming like seconds, spanning decades, until the anguish of its final epithanic refrain (“THE END HAS COME TOO SOON”); an inchoate howl for humanity in the darkness of its existence. As the CD shudders to a halt, though there is no music, there is its echo all around, its vibrations in the air all around, fading infinitesimally, to be replaced only by empty space, only the sense of something missing.
As if life itself, being born, is an insistent process that we are not even aware of, and by the time we are aware of it, it is to be taken away from us, and the memories of death (parents, grandparents, friends not deserving tragedy, car crashes, drugs, alcohol, cancer), the memories of death are all that remain.