These days, it’s so rarely that I’m surprised by music that when I do get surprised, my first reaction is skepticism. Pushed hard to me on eMusic, the first music I heard from Wild Beasts was in the form of short samples, with some chiming guitars, slinky beats, and falsetto outbursts, and it just sounded both musically banal and like an attention grabbing gimmick vocally. I came back to the samples a few times, never convinced, yet obviously still intrigued. With one day left before my eMusic account’s monthly reset and too many downloads remaining, I finally had the incentive to find out what the fuck this bullshit was. It turns out this band sounds weird simply because they are weird, and they have the balls to use that weirdness to draw a bold line in the sand. They take this expressive openness and cook up some absolutely enthralling and passionate tunes.
Wild Beasts is one of those bands that feels utterly singular yet instantly familiar. Two Dancers is a mysterious and seductive original blend of a bunch of great under-appreciated and occasionally maligned musical touchstones: The Edge pre-Joshua Tree, Kate Bush’s stained glass goth, Interpol’s cocksure chime and gloom, nu-disco’s bright but lonely pulsing stars, dance music’s dumb but jaunty arpeggios, Jeff Buckley’s mournful Bohemianism, and the sexually nebulous mystique of Hercules/Antony. Lead track “The Fun Powder Plot” centers on the flamboyantly sung lyrics “This is a booty call. My boot my boot my boot up your asshole/ This is a Freudian Slip. A slip of my slip of my slip of my slipper in your bits”. I don’t know what more one could need to be compelled to listen to the rest of the album.
The reason this group sounds so singular despite all their familiarities is that their songs unravel organically instead of predictably. It’s not the sound of a band painstakingly copying blueprints, but the sound of a unit exploring their influences until they come together to create something undeniable, with each song ending up a mix of influences. The guitar is as apt to beep, twinkle, or chime as it is to riff or lead. The bass can take command melodically, snaking and slithering into your arteries, hang back and pluck like a metronome, or buzz as foundation. The drums are supplemented by percussion knocks, patters, and tinks throughout. Thrown together, probably whittled down from jam sessions, the vibe here is immaculate throughout.
Just implying this album has a thematically sexual edge doesn’t do service to the depth of its affect. It evokes not only your own past if you’ve been paying attention to music in the margins over the last two or three decades, but feels like an ode to the post-Renaissance quest for forbidden but spiritually elevating social communion, fuck all else, especially learned behavior like manners and restraint. In this sense, this is the first absolutely big-R Romantic album that’s come around in a while. It’s concerned with bodily urges and pagan poetics, the pull of the moon and push of fabric, dripping dogs howling, tastes dancing on tongues, and many other semi-inscrutable but evocative turns of phrase.
Apropos to Two Dancers, there are two voices featured prominently. One is Hayden Thorpe’s , the falsetto/tenor which swoops, trills, and confronts. The other is Tom Fleming’s tenor/bass, which mourns, reflects, and declares. They work together over the course of the album to create a subtle depth of perspective unlike most multi-singer bands. Instead of coming off like distinct personalities, they work the same territory, giving a sense of the high and low, the immediate and the removed, and the impulsive and pensive.
Two Dancers keeps up it’s ethereal funkiness throughout, and maintains its draw after repeated listens. It’s nothing less than an art-pop Romance as played by lascivious courtly lowlifes, rejecting the things you learn through life for the impulses that you usually suppress. It’s great to have another album so musically rich that extols misbehavior as accurately as it soundtracks it. Let’s dance.