Music: Smother by Wild Beasts ****
In a world of identikit English indie bands making samey, uninspired music, Wild Beasts stand out defiantly. The London-based fourpiece originally from the Lake District have, to date, released two wilfully eccentric but hugely compelling albums, including the playful, flamboyant and utterly polarising Two Dancers, which was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.
For this third offering, they've reigned in their excesses a little and turned down the theatrics. "We felt empowered by the fact that people are listening," co-vocalist Hayden Thorpe has explained, "whereas beforehand we had to take a battering ram to the door to make people listen." The result is absorbing: an understated yet musically ambitious album, boasting songs of considerable beauty and lasting power.
Take opener Lion's Share. Like many of the tracks here, it's a deeply personal but unmawkish love song that pits Thorpe's arresting vocals (not quite falsetto, but close) against a piano-led backdrop that recalls Michael Nyman and Steve Reich. It's a song that sneaks up on you slowly and then grabs you and won't let go.
At every turn, Smother feels like a meticulously crafted record, yet one that flows freely and beguilingly. Listen to Bed of Nails -- a sensual, darkly evocative, searingly intelligent song -- and it's easy to understand all those comparisons with two of the loftier British names of the 80s, The Blue Nile and Talk Talk. It's a wonderful antidote to the dumbed down, cheap thrills espoused by any number of Wild Beasts' less erudite, fame-hungry contemporaries.
And then there's the stunning album closer, End Come Too Soon.
Unfolding seductively over its seven-minute run-time, it's the sound of a special band ploughing its own furrow, utterly oblivious to prevailing fads.
Burn it: End Come Too Soon; Plaything; Bed of Nails
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