One of the most stealthily unsettling bands to come out of the UK are back with their fourth album and true to form it will sneak into your mind and probably lay eggs… “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck” sings Hayden Thorpe in his signature falsetto during ‘Wanderlust’ and there you have it, this is a band who blurt out beautifully written and performed songs about abuse, rape, violence and depravity but never with the end goal of shocking listeners, it’s as if they want you to suddenly stop in your tracks a few hours after you heard the song when the penny drops. How dare they!
Heavily synthesised musical arrangements and programmed beats are staples of Wild Beasts‘ music, but never losing sight of the fact that they are a ‘real’ band with plectrums and sticks and everything. So, this being their first album without Richard Formby who’s production was critical to their sound on Smother and Two Dancers, that electronic element has been magnified and enriched and for possibly the first time on a Wild Beasts’ release it almost masks any other instrumentation. This provides a far more expansive sound than that attained on their previous albums and is manifest on the near-perfect ‘Nature Boy’. A song with the portentous swagger of ‘ All The Kings Men’ but with added menace and flurrys of keys thrown on like hundreds and thousands on a birthday cake.
‘Mecca’ – the first song to noticeably feature any guitars – is a gentle enough reminder that this is a band who take writing songs quite seriously, a craft rather than a statement. ‘Sweet Spot’, for all it’s 8-bit charm, is a lull in tempo and lacks any real depth aside from the vocals. Thankfully ‘Pregnant Pause’ brings the album back to life and is ostensibly as beautiful an ode to love as you are likely to hear this year. “Sometimes my heart hurts to watch you” sings Thorpe but as with all things Wild Beasts there is probably some horror in their awaiting the unsuspecting listener. ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ is dense and driving enough to not seem out of place but at the same time it has an airy and light quality to it that deserves many, many more listens. Similarly is the case of ‘Past Perfect’ which has a guitar line bordering on funk. 80’s funk, but funk.
Present Tense is Wild Beasts’ best collection of songs. Furthermore it is their best sounding album and their best exercise in songwriting yet. The fact that they are so unequivocally talented and unpredictable marks them out as something special. There is a darkness to them which although isn’t as obviously present as on their past albums, it is still lurking there waiting for the listener to drop their guard.