Released 24th February, 2014
Now on their fourth effort, Present Tense captures Wild Beasts in some kind of musical Autumn, in limbo of direction and sound and in the process of shedding many of their most recognisable characteristics.
The band’s gentle percussion, reverb-soaked timbres and sense of perversity, persevere. Meanwhile Hayden Thorpe’s extraordinary countertenor voice and Tom Fleming’s rustic growl remain. Present Tense, however, finds Wild Beasts coming out of the woods, as it were, and moving towards a much more accessible destination.
Forthcoming first single and first track, ‘Wanderlust’, is the best instance of this. Other than the odd ‘Devil’s Crayon’, Limbo, Panto and Two Dancers were albums that required several listens to be fully rewarding and ‘Wanderlust’ is by far the most challenging thing here, if only for its atypical pop structure and metronomic, almost crazed beat, in 3/4 time. The song is also cloaked in brash electronic timbres which those albums (and third effort Smother) held, but would not have housed to such a degree; a prevalent feature of the rest of Present Tense.
Most commonly such electronic timbres manifest themselves in lewd saw wave form (‘Sweet Spot’, ‘Wanderlust’) or as chiming leads (‘Daughters’, ‘Past Perfect’, ‘Nature Boy’). Meanwhile, there is the scent of danceability in the almost funk basslines of ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ and ‘Past Perfect’.It’s not quite synthpop – the band have not lost their sensitivity or sense of mysticism – though, there is certainly a ‘bigger’ aura surrounding Present Tense, than on previous work.
Indeed, much of the album resembles Kate Bush (on Hounds of Love) and Talk Talk (on The Colour of Spring) at their most pop-centric, whilst retaining a dedication to delicate and nuanced song-writing. Common pop chord progressions are a staple of Present Tense, whilst big choruses are another. Highlight, ‘Mecca’ revolves around two such choruses in succinct loveliness, with Thorpe cooing in typically reflective and yearning mood “All we want is to feel that feeling again”. If it weren’t for such sensitivity, ‘Sweet Spot’ could almost be a Peaches song, though it does capture Wild Beasts love for the suggestive, with Thorpe intoning “Between the womb and the end” at the song’s stripped climax.
What is questionable, however, is if this breaks any new sonic ground. There are no dulcimers, no ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’ and generally nothing difficult. “Throw the ball up into space” says Fleming on ‘A Dog’s Life’. It’s not difficult to see a band gazing skywards.