Depending on how you cut it, Wild Beasts have either made a career out of pop-ifying art rock, or art-ifying pop music. Whichever it is, the English quartet has pieced together an unlikely masterpiece on this year’s Smother. Even as the record has garnered gushing, near perfect reviews across the board, Smother is most compelling for how deftly it escapes any sort of easy description. Indeed, the band’s disparate parts sound like an ill-advised mishmash on paper: Hayden Thorpe’s piercing, Kate Bush-esque vocal impressions split time on the mic with Tom Fleming’s equally expressive baritone, while Chris Talbot’s airtight, street-smart rhythms and, most conspicuously, the quartet’s undying thematic obsession with sex. These pieces hardly sound like they’d come together on anything remotely cohesive. It’s all the more satisfying, then, thatSmother is one of the most decisive albums in recent memory, a record that rings with a refinement well beyond its creators’ years.
Between the ambient synth touches of “Plaything” and “Burning”s lush, embellished strums, Smother serves as a sampler of just about everything happening in music today. Live, the quartet has no issue relaying the stirring intimacy they conjure up on record, with frontman Thorpe ensuring that his coos and oohs mesh faultlessly with his bandmates’ ornate soundscapes and instrumentation. And lest we forget their affinity for moving feet, Wild Beasts’ tight rhythm section offers plenty of glaring, groovy reminders (in the form of slithering basslines and irresistible beats) that their music would be equally at home on sweaty club dancefloors as in a prim art gallery.
Records as intensely intimate and instantly memorable as Wild Beasts’ Smother don’t come around very often. Don’t miss them Friday, September 16th at Austin City Limits’ Honda Stage.
By Mohammad Choudhery of Consequence of Sound