Wild Beasts aim to finally get out from Arctic Monkeys‘ shadow – largely through subtle, public swipes taken at the latter band – on their fourth LP Present Tense. Sure, they play with a “different approach,” but their career started at the same time, and grew in parallel. As a less “macho” alternative, Wild Beasts’ synth-heavy electro pop inevitably borrows a bit from the 80s on this record, which is almost unavoidable sonically. When the Beasts tap more into the Donnie Darko side of the era, they throw in plenty of musical creativity and lyrical muscle, but there’s a bit of neon pink that can be skipped.
The opener, and lead single, “Wanderlust,” has a sweet groove-in-three, and helps punctuate the epic choir patches that build as the Beasts take a jab at AM singer Alex Turner’s infamous recent vocal accent metamorphosis. That’s interwoven with a “Rambling Man” ideology, and a more sophisticated twist on Lorde‘s anti-materialistic message on “Royals:” [LISTEN]
An even deeper subtext that co-lyricist Hayden Thorpe has mentioned is that in Britain, musicians from old-money families are still playing crowd-pleasing garbage as if their music had to pay the rent, even though they could be creating actual art with their paid free time. That’s some impressive food for thought for an opening track.
It’s a sentiment that the band takes to heart quite a bit, but elsewhere, they’ll either fail to achieve his artistic goals or succumb to the mighty dollar’s (pound’s? euro’s?) strangle-hold. Case in point, the three-consecutive-track deadspace from “A Simple Beautiful Truth” to “Past Perfect,” where they throw in some trite positive vibes, then attempt depressing rainy-day music from a canine viewpoint, and finally top it off with some Afro-appropriated beats, congas and quick guitar picking (a regrettable trend for which we can all thank Vampire Weekend), and a dead-horse beating on a “tense” pun.
Still, these guys are excellent song craftsmen. “Daughters” gives your token broken home a groovy crooner treatment, and “Mecca” is pure, unadulterated pop, yet it is absolutely beautiful. Not only that, but Thorpe’s longing for an entheogenic, euphoric enlightenment is very articulate:
These guys could’ve probably listened to their high school choir teachers a little bit less, but they know their way around honest emotion, and have the ability to spell it out for you intelligently, uniquely and in a way that sucks you in. Plus, they even close it with an upbeat track that doesn’t reek of neon 80’s upchuck, signifying hope on a pretty stark record: