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 411mania » Music » Album Reviews

Wild Beasts - Present Tense Review
Posted by Daniel Wilcox on 02.25.2014

My 2014 Reviews:
Ed Harcourt - Time of Dust EP [8.0]
Warpaint - Warpaint [9.0]
Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues [7.0]
Sophie Ellis-Bextor - Wanderlust [9.0]
Mogwai - Raves Tapes [4.0]
Young the Giant - Mind Over Matter [6.0]
You Me At Six - Cavalier Youth [5.5]
Gaslight Anthem - The B-Sides [6.5]
Of Mice and Men - Restoring Force [8.0]
Within Temptation - Hyrda [8.5]
Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow [8.0]
The Rifles - None the Wiser [5.0]
Skindred - Kill the Power [7.0]
Katy B - Little Red [9.0]
The Family Rain - Under the Volcano [7.0]
Clare Maguire - Clare Maguire EP [7.0]
Behemoth - The Satanist [7.0]
Beck - Morning Phase [9.5]
Wild Beasts - Perfect Tense [10.0]

WIld Beasts is:
Hayden Thorpe – vocals
Ben Little – guitar
Tom Fleming – bass, vocals
Chris Talbot – drums

Wild BeastsPresent Tense

Track listing:
1. Wanderlust
2. Nature Boy
3. Mecca
4. Sweet Spot
5. Daughters
6. Pregnant Pause
7. A Simple Beautiful Truth
8. A Dog's Life
9. Past Perfect
10. New Life
11. Palace
Running time: 40:59

Present Tense is an aptly named record. In the writing process for album number four, Wild Beasts decided to mix things up and parted company with long-term producer Richard Formby in favour of Leo Abrahams and long-time contributor Lexxx to help them sharpen their sound and really hone in on the music they wanted to make. After touring almost non-stop for several years in promotion of their three previous records, the band had been feeling burned out and wanted to take the right amount of time to craft the perfect record for them, and with the help of the new producers, the record sounds like an organic progression of where the band begun, what they've accomplished to date and where they are now. All of the band's previous outings have received high praise and deservedly so, but it's been difficult to pinpoint a particular genre. You could use the umbrella term of indie rock, or you can focus on the ambient nature of their sound, you could call it art-pop (not 2013's Gaga catastrophe) or you can label it post-punk. Regardless of how you chose to categorize the band's sound, the only was you can categorize this as album is “flawless.”

The change is producers was partially in order to encourage the band to move away from their guitar sound of the earlier records in favour of the electronics that layers first single and opening track “Wanderlust.” Its deep, pounding synths grab your attention by putting a guiding hand on your shoulder rather than by grabbing you by the scruff of your neck. And then we get the rather jarring lyric “don't confuse me for someone who gives a fuck,” and the floor disappears from under out feet. I can only imagine it's what it would feel like to apparate in the wizarding world. The relentless drums and dark tones make up for an extraordinary scenery as we're transported from the comfort of our own safe, familiar world into another, another world as colourful as the album's artwork. “Nature Boy” is an inspired track that came to the band when they were watching – believe it or not - professional wrestling. Fittingly it has all the pomp and circumstance of Ric Flair's signature “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” but sounds infinitely more menacing, the “woo's” are deeper and more drawn out, but the effects are of similar deception.

Despite perhaps being the band's least accessible album, “Mecca” features arguable the biggest hook the band has ever written in the form of opening vocal “all we all want is to feel that feeling again.” It's a refrain that's repeated throughout but it would stay with you regardless, it instantly commands you're attention and for the first time the vocal conducts a part of this infinite journey while the music takes a backseat, though the pulsating drums are a comforting back drop. “Sweet Spot” harkens back to the band's debut record, Limbo, Panto, with its melancholy lead guitar anchoring Thorpe's confident vocal swooning. The harmonies on these track are simply to die for (Thorpe and Fleming share vocal duties), and the song itself aptly carries a sense of danger that is present throughout the record. Thorpe is singing of life's harsh lessons throughout, but this is another highlight. “Daughters” is a slow-burner of a track, and the vocal is much deeper. Lyrically it talks damningly of isolation and defeatism, the word's dripping from Fleming's tongue like a leaking tap and when the drops hit the base of the sink, it creates an almighty splash – each song is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. Every idea the band comes out with has the legs to stand on its own as a brilliant piece of work.

“Pregnant Pause” sparkles behind ambient piano keys and a higher vocal styling that mesmerises, illustrating an organic and refreshing sound akin to the sound of sunlight breaking out through the trees and wakening the birds. The minimalist approach on this track sharply contrasts its successor, “A Simple Beautiful Truth,” perhaps the most upbeat offering on Present Tense. Once again Thorpe's vocal takes centre stage but it's also the busiest track of the record and quite likely the one with the most commercial appeal. The opening verses serenade into a chorus so majestic you picture the co-frontmen harmonising in dinner jackets aboard the Titanic on its maiden voyage, moments before the tragedy strikes. These songs that kind of attention to detail that make repeated listens all the more rewarding and there's infinite pleasures to be found within Present Tense. “A Dog's Life” is a bit more off-kilter and features Fleming back on vocals as he deeply ponders the loss of a beloved pet, because every indie pop act has done the loss of a loved one to death.

Wild Beasts are blessed in possessing two top quality singers, and both shine on this record. Thorpe's otherworldly falsetto is paramount to the exoticness of “Past Perfect,” and his lyrical delivery is astounding. Eastern drums give the song a whole other layer entirely and the intricacies of the synths take us further into a startling abyss. “New Life” harkens back to the ambient sounds of previous album Smother - it's a slow burn with Fleming's deeper vocal eagerly complimenting an urgent pounding of keys, a dark, melancholy choral cry that takes a while to climax but when it does, we're so effortlessly swept away on waves on contentment. It's the album's final grand design and one that feels as though it's been years in the making. On album-closer “Palace” we feel we've already reached the pinnacle, and the track is almost a victory lap for a bad that, in just about five years, have brushed aside many of their contemporaries in favour of standing alone, peerless and peering out over a vast technicolour world that they themselves have created. But they're not content - “That was a palace / And this is a squat,” cries Thorpe as the album comes to a shuddering halt. It's bookends the themes of album opener “Wanderlust” in damning those around them who make paint-by-numbers music, where Wild Beasts set out to paint their own luscious dreamscapes, and that's exactly what Present Tense is.

Wild Beasts - “Sweet Spot”

The 411: The most essential indie album since Alt J's An Awesome Wave. It's difficult to fully describe what an achievement Present Tense is. The title is an accurate one, as the album sounds exactly what an indie pop record should sound like in 2014. Both vocalists bring their own unique talents to their tracks and harmonise beautifully throughout, putting the finishing touches on the vast imaginary landscapes that they have created. It's an album that relies heavily on synths and electronic elements, as many do in this day and age, but every note, every key, has a meaning. And the more you listen to this album, the more you understand it's meaning. The tracks sway from the melancholy to the downright morbid before delivering you another epiphany and showering you with light once more. It's a record that tugs on every heartstring and plays on every emotion it can without ever feeling forced or overzealous. Present Tense could have been a disaster considering the band took their first real break from the band in order to write it – it could and probably should have been an over-thought mess that tangles ideas, but everything is laid out perfectly. Present Tense, simple put, is the best album I've heard for a long, long time and I will likely be saying for a long time to come.
411 Elite Award
Final Score:  10.0   [ Virtually Perfect ]  legend


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