Wild Beasts – Present Tense

by Sean Phillips

A flurry of genuine excitement greeted the return of Wild Beasts on the 7th January, nearly three years after the release of third album and modern classic, Smother (2011), which saw the band mature further still from the Mercury-nominated Two Dancers (2009), which firmly established Wild Beasts among the UK’s most captivating and innovative groups.

An apt taster of Present Tense, Wanderlust evokes both the spirit and showcases the palate of sounds that define Present Tense. Gone are the reverb pedals which helped craft the ethereal sound of Two Dancers and Smother; in their place is a carefully selected set of retro synthesisers - possibly once used by Bronski Beat or Ultravox - which characterise the minimal instrumentation that ultimately serves Present Tense so well throughout. Whilst beauty on both Two Dancers and Smother was defined by what seemed layer upon layer of instrumentation, Present Tense sees a key change in direction. Evoking perhaps the finest avant-garde pop bands of the 1980s, Talk Talk and The Blue Nile to name just two, beauty throughout Present Tense is found in its subtlety. Ultimately, in the year the band spent away from touring after burnout following touring Smother, and the travesty of missing out on a Mercury Prize nomination for that album, Wild Beasts have well-defined a new approach. Minimalism in this case has lead to an increased emphasis upon song-writing and Present Tense showcases Wild Beasts’ finest song-writing to date. The results are remarkable.

Like all fine albums, Present Tense contains a run of great songs early-on. “We’re decadent beyond our means…” croons Hayden Thorpe on album-opener and first single, Wanderlust. The words reference Wild Beasts’ previous lyrical endeavours, whilst also defining the overarching lyrical theme of Present Tense; a discerning appraisal of modern life and everything in it. Lovers of the bongos (the instrument that defined elements of the percussion on Two Dancers and Smother) have only to wait until second track, Nature Boy, for their welcome return. Wild Beasts then up the ante with anthem-in-the-making, Mecca, and the single-ready Sweet Spot, before delving further into depths of minimal beauty with A Simple Beautiful Truth. This track is a real highlight, which showcases Wild Beasts’ new sound better than any other track here. What seems remarkable about Present Tense is its attention to detail. This detail references the most endearing elements of their previous three albums, whilst also casting a progressive eye upon the larger picture. The result is that every detail feels necessary.

Like all great albums, Present Tense reaches its climax with a truly euphoric moment in closing track, Palace; another stand-out moment on an album which offers plenty. A fitting ending. Ultimately,Present Tense captures the cacophony, the absurdity, and the beauty of modern life in wonderful measure. An ambitious attempt in itself, but an ultimately successful one, as Wild Beasts once again confirm their ability to construct a contemporary sounding, relevant, thematically and stylistically cohesive body of work. This is a band in a league of their own.