Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review: Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (* * * *)

It's only been just over a year since Wild Beasts released their debut album, Limbo, Panto, which got a great deal of people - including myself - pretty excited about the young British quartet. Led by vocalist Hayden Thorpe, whose singular falsetto is both strange and thrilling, the group was truly one of 2008's most intriguing discoveries. So news of a sophomore effort so soon was a bit unexpected but certainly welcome, and though I've made no secret about my general wariness of new bands releasing albums with such little time in between, it's clear i had no need to worry in this case. Two Dancers doesn't so much present a huge leap forward for the group as it shows Wild Beasts tweaking their art-pop style - solidifying their sound and seeking for more cohesion over the course of an album. And it works, at least well enough to put these boys on a decidedly upward trajectory as far as musical maturity and craft are concerned.

Part of the new approach includes more time on the mic for bassist Tom Flemming, who only took the lead on a couple tracks on the band's debut. His appealingly dark baritone is a wonderful contrast to Thorpe's acrobatic vocals, and with more crossover between the two - the whole experience feels stronger and more consistently satisfying. The first single "All the King's Men" is a good example, with Flemming singing melody while Thorpe croons over and around him throughout, as is the two-part "Two Dancers," which both follow a similar pattern. Still, it's Flemming that shines brightest - especially on the gorgeous "We Still Got the Taste Dancin' On Our Tongues," a clear highlight. The music also a bit more restrained on the whole - perhaps as a result of the focus on quality over wild emotional expression, but though there's nothing so explosive or dramatic as "Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants" from Limbo, Panto, there's still enough theatricality here to keep fans happy and newcomers intrigued.

What's most assuring about Two Dancers is that while the album certainly has differences (and improvements) from the band's debut, the boys still sound appropriately confident in their unique sound. Thorpe's lyrics are still clever and often cheeky and the band's nimble instrumentation remains sharp and spacious, allowing room for the vocals to take their proper place front and center. Put simply - they know what makes them special and they embrace it. If you somehow missed these guys last year, don't make the same mistake now, this is a fantastic sophomore effort from a group you should know.