Rating: 8 / Format: CD/LP / Label: Domino
Even if Wild Beasts weren’t a good band, it’d still be good to have them around. The four-piece from Kendal, Yorkshire burn brightly with honest strangeness, an antidote to the grey ranks of British indie bands with their countless shaggy dog stories about bus shelters, kebabs and smoking B&H. No doubt they’ll get dismissed by many as ridiculous, but music needs Wild Beasts’ kind of ostentatious, Down With Workaday Realism.
But, as a bonus to making admirably far-fetched music, Wild Beasts are also pretty great. It all starts with the voice; Hayden Thorpe’s magnificent falsetto exploding into bloom, its feral noise and colour bleeding over the edges and then burrowing down into scrappy, frayed gurgles. This voice, which always shocks and unsettles, ranges over tales of messy sensuality and senseless violence twisted into sinister baroque poetry. The backdrop to the voice is far less ambitious, often sounding a little like Interpol would if they had a bit more of a post-industrial Miners’ Strike bleakness to them. When Hayden hands over vocals to guitarist Tom Fleming, it’s all good, but a definite step down, sounding weirdly similar to Richard Hawley’s northern epics. Yet the subdued quality of Two Dancers – far more bruised and brooding than the bands’ previous Limbo Panto – is perfect for Hayden’s flights of vocal fancy. He can stand out, shining, against the slightly drab, jangling cats-cradles of guitars. At their best, as on ‘Hooting and Howling’, the propulsive sweep and drama of this band is irresistible.
Wild Beasts have a confusing and complex relationship to pop; they’re at once anthemic, and quite out of reach, almost aggressively challenging at times. So it’s fitting, perhaps, that they leave me a little ambivalent as to what I want from them. Their poppier moments are often wonderful, yet it’s also disappointing that they never fully step off the cliff into deranged ambition. There’s none of the hard work of, say, the Dirty Projectors here, but neither are there the rich rewards of teeth-on-edge, derailing brilliance. As great as Two Dancers is, there’s still the nagging feeling that this band have a masterpiece in them, and this isn’t quite it.