The defining method many use on a band’s catalog is always one that can hold great distinction. For England-based Wild Beasts, they’ve confidently ensured that while their discography is still young, at now three albums rich, it has carried an identity of its own with albums that shine with magnificent melodies and instrumentation. After 2008’s Limbo, Panto, the band took little time to present 2009’s critically-adored Two Dancers. Albums that both presented modestly composed and assured musicians, the latter was easily one of the best revelations of its time. With their latest release, Smother, the band offers a new sound to their diverse spectrum that while dissimilar from its predecessor, is a fine follow-up in many regards.
The enthralling rhythmic patterns and insatiable melody on something like “The Fun Powder Plot” is definitely something starkly amiss on Smother. While there are gorgeous melodies that soar over the polished synths and warm tones, there is never anything quite as rip-roaring as hearing Hayden Thorpe’s ‘booty call’ slip-ups on the aforementioned song. But in many ways, it’s as if Wild Beasts surely planned it this way – with albums that all follow neatly-pieced and arranged set pieces – for after Two Dancers’ varying dynamic shifts and styles, for the next album to be the kind of music to simply delve in. Justly, the music is left much sparser and definitely, much barer, than the infused energy on Two Dancers, but Smother is a sweltering listen on its own accord.
It’s evidently clear, from the very outset, just how much Smother contrasts many of the same concepts seen before. With “Lion’s Share,” the song relies on the climactic feel and release of a highlighted piano and horn line to supplement Thorpe’s nervy vocals, while “Bed of Nails” is much more upbeat with a dancing synth line, the subdued style of the production reveals an intimate progression. These kinds of songs make the best parts of the album, while something like “Invisible” can leave you feeling a bit empty. While there is promise in the development, the bareness of the music leaves too much to be desired. The same happens on “Deeper” and its Low-like tendencies – they might work for other bands but on an outfit that is incredibly dense with musical ideas, the instruments and illustrious layers of instruments are deeply missed.
You surely can’t fault Wild Beasts’ nature in being splendidly consistent. Every album has begun with an enthralling, all-encompassing, engrossing opener that immediately sucks the listener in; however on Smother, the album’s seven-minute closer is easily one of the band’s best songs to date. The band has made a name for itself behind Thorpe’s singular, memorable vocals and their ability at being able to compose stunningly gripping music. Their roots are built around defined musicianship that is purely aesthetic while on a sonic level, always pushing the beams forward. On “End Come Too Soon” the band encircles a swirling melody that trades between a gleaming piano and shimmering guitar. After all of the album’s enveloping sounds, the calming tranquility in the song’s composure is a brilliant ending and one that fittingly caps the ending to a strong album.
Although Smother isn’t as suffocating as perhaps it should be, it’s still an interesting venture for Wild Beasts to have taken and definitely, a worthy follow-up to Two Dancers. And so while there isn’t anything as wildly inventive as maybe “Hooting & Howling” anywhere to be found, there is a great deal of lingering new sounds to get lost in.