By Kaylen Hann | 9 June 2011
I have seen these Wild Beasts dudes, with the elastic hems of their uber-British-hipster jeans tucked into their respective Converse sneakers, howling inflamed and enthused lyrics of lust and the libertine, swinging cocks and sating cravings. Through this, Wild Beasts maintain a straight-faced brand of dark brutality that makes them—adorable, British mom-jeans and all—a buncha real fuckin’ creepers. Beautiful creepers, in a way I can only liken to the most sinister-sexy of, well, Edward Cullen posters. Except I’m talking about their aesthetic, not their eyebrows.
In former releases (2008’s Limbo, Panto and 2009’s Mercury Prize-winning Two Dancers) and live shows alike, Wild Beasts have proven to be a gutsy lot. What, with their stunning vocals, unabashed bass toils, and hedonistic rock indulgences. Those rock indulgences, by the way, being a lot to tackle or nut-up to. It’s always seemed like an unspoken battle, the relationship between the Wild Beasts’ songwriting and the capabilities of falsetto dreamboat Hayden Thorpe and now his deep, velvety-voiced cohort and bassist Tom Fleming. The instruments and writing continuously tasked with upping their import and presence to occupy the same stage as those Tiny Tim hollers and viscous croons. So it’s a small wonder these guys have churned a progressively clever album from the elements, dressed-down in sultry synths and textural loops, instead of giving in to the seductive call of shred-happy, anthemic overdrive.
Poised as hyper-indulgent fellas, Smother is a startlingly controlled album, one that’s exactly as smooth and smoldering as its moniker posits. The first of many refinements: Thorpe has noticeably reined in his vocal acrobatics, honing in on the Chuck Bass notion that anything whispered is twice as creepy and also twice as likely to get you laid. While showcasing those highs, it’s a primarily low-toned production that’s more approaching Queen’s level of theatrical finesse, with an impressively intensified seductiveness. And amped creepiness. Instead of boisterous and bawdy pub chanting, the vocal work on Smother is a deep and enlightening study of the satiating, round UK vowels: the river-rock-smooth edges and the knee-buckling deep tones that Thorpe and Fleming are capable of drawing out. Even while they sing about the weights of desire and, um, doin’ it on beds of nails. It’s a formula that makes their kind of terrifying suggestions sound like something I could potentially get behind.
The instrumentation on Smother has bypassed their former issues with one-upping the vocals entirely. The ways in which Wild Beasts incorporate beat tracks and synths in their compositions—now almost entirely stripped of slopped-up UK dude-rock—is like seeing Shakespeare the way it was meant to be seen. It’s exploitative of dramatic elements and unexpectedly tender embellishments: the string-striking spangle that lends a baroque texture to “Burning”; the sweet exchange of creeper-croons and the bright plucks of guitar; the borderline prissy piano line that delicately travels through opening track “Lion’s Share.”
Starting off sultry, Smother, in accordance with Barry White recommendations, just keeps…slowing…down. By the time you reach “Plaything” the rhythm is little more than subtle kick drum and a crisp snare that beat slower than a comatose tortoise’s heart, and from there stays the course. They may, in their lyrics, ask you to French ’em in the dirt, but it’s altogether more akin to getting languorously “made love to” on some serious, sex-panther rug. By Edward Cullen. Or a better vampire than that. Full disclosure: I do not actually know that much about vampire shit.
Smother is an album that shows just how savvy and capable Wild Beasts are at (firstly) songwriting and (finally) achieving a level of dedicated editing Flaubert would humble himself before. While previous albums had a raucous and inebriated running-wolf-pack pace, Smother is more lingering, observant, and, well, smothering. With the rhythms slowed and disturbingly attractive vocals honed, it may not be the best makeout album if you don’t want to give yourself or your partner sex-nightmares, but it’s good enough to almost make those sex-nightmares worth it. In the eeriest way imaginable, it’s a predatory album that seems to size you up from a dark corner; it may in fact smother, but it takes its damn sweet, sexy time snuffing you out.