Wild Beasts Trekking Through California

Posted by Billy Gil, October 11, 2011 05:49pm | Post a Comment
One of my favorite bands of the past few years has to be Wild Beasts. Captivatingly beautiful yet harrowingly strange, there just aren’t many bands around like Wild Beasts. If you haven’t heard them, think Talk Talk/Talking Heads style percussive yet atmospheric rock with the theatrical falsetto of singer Hayden Thorpe and intoning howl of bassist Tom Fleming booming and flooding over everything.
Their earliest stuff had a freewheeling quality that made it seem like they were daring you to turn it off or keep listening to find out where they’d go next. First single “Brave Bulging Buyoyant Clairvoyants” from Limbo, Panto starts as this bouncy guitar jam until you hear the weirdest voice ever, like razors on chalkboard — that would be Thorpe’s dandified growl. That song used to be like a litmus test for me to see how much people would be willing to hear something that kind of smacks you around a bit and can’t sit nicely in the background.

“We were kind of small town boys really,” Fleming says of their early days. “It’s a bit of naiveté. We just thought people would get it.”

Things changed for 2009’s Two Dancers, which saw the band rein in the ruckus and focus on grooves and tunefulness. People took notice — the formerly renegade and challenging band suddenly appeared on year-end lists aplenty and got the band nominated for a Mercury Prize.

“It didn’t change a thing in terms of the music we’re making,” Fleming says. “But when you’re heading people like Mark Ronson saying they like Wild Beasts, it’s like, what on earth? When did this happen?”

Fleming says people told him they expected Wild Beasts to take that hype and make a self-consciously “big” album. They didn’t. This year the band released Smother, a nocturnal, literary and just as weird, if more mature, album compared with what they’ve done before. Though it shaves off some of the harder edges that made their early material so fun, it’s a more honed version of what they put forth on Two Dancers. And fewer people will make a face when you put it on.

“I think a lot of people get lazy making leftfield music,” Fleming says. “It comes off as a bit ungenerous and uninviting. We want to find a balance.”

Smother is by far the prettiest thing the band has put to tape, as the hanging, loping guitarwork of “Loop the Loop” and horn-laden balladry of “Invincible” will attest. You can hear a bit more of their avant-pop influences in a song like “Bed of Nails,” a sexy sister song to “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush (an admitted influence), and Thorpe’s feminized voice doesn’t sound so far off from Thom Yorke’s in the soaring beauty of “Albatross.”

“I think one of the things that kind of makes us the band we are is no one gets to do completely what they want,” Fleming says. “It’s always a collective struggle.”

Wild Beasts play the Echoplex Oct. 13 with angeleno EMA (get tickets here). Check out her “What’s in My Bag?” feature below! And don’t sleep on her excellent debut Past Life Martyred Saints, a pure pleasure for fans of '90s female-fronted rock (echoes of PJ Harvey, Björk, Liz Phair). Meanwhile, Wild Beasts play Santa Cruz’s Rio Theatre tonight, then LA, before playing Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco on Sunday. Check out the rest of the amazing lineup for that show and buy tickets here.

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Wild Beasts (6), Treasure Island (5), Echoplex (10), Ema (7), Talk Talk (7), Talking Heads (16), Kate Bush (23)