Wild Beasts are a curious entity and their singular approach to “indie” is one that has seem them take on more electronic feel as their career has progressed and with Present Tense those elements come to the fore while allowing the band to retain their unique sound and emotion. Present Tense is the British bands’ fourth full length and for them it comes after a period of feeling burnt out and a tad disillusioned with how things were progressing and as such they took a step back and regrouped before coming together for Present Tense and its delicate touch.
Wild Beasts have always been a band of two halves, with Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto vocal contrasting with Tom Fleming’s rich deep drawl and here they both work for each other rather than as separate voices and often collaborate to weave their words into the fabric of tracks giving the band a little more fullness than they might have had before such as with “Nature Boy” or the subtle “Daughters” or the much more two-handed “A Simple Beautiful Truth.”
The pieces that the band have been working into their sound palette since the early days of Two Dancers and 2011s Smother are given more room to roam in Present Tense – the electronic touches are interlaced with more traditional instrumentation rather than allowed to standalone and this in turn gives Wild Beasts the cohesion they’ve been seeking for so long. This may be in part down to them going in a different direction in terms of production and using Leo Abrahams and the wonderfully monikered Alex 'Lexxx' Dromgoole instead of Richard Formby this time around to steer their sound into new territory. Oftentimes familiarity breeds safety and Wild Beasts have certainly taken new paths on Present Tense.
The songs on Present Tense are laced with sadness, loss and regret and for that Wild Beasts continue their quest to create music that while minimal still deals with matters that are weighty and substantial – whether that’s death, the irreversible effect man has had on humanity, sex or intimacy. The band are adept at telling a story and in Present Tense they draw all their elements together to produce a work that is delicious, coherent and damning all at once. It speaks of decadence, living beyond your means and class and at times it slinks with a sensual energy - something that Wild Beasts have always had a deft touch with - and the sexual undertones are pulled out by those sweetly sang notes and given a life of their own, none more so than on “Sweet Spot.” “Daughters” slow, languid build to electronic pulses is heightened by Fleming’s gorgeous tone which slips and slides with a darkness that Wild Beasts use to their advantage. The dance-like flourishes of the song cascade with a heady fuzz which trips into “Pregnant Pause,” following it up with slight movement yet heavy subject matter.
“Palace” closes the record on an gentle beat which serves Thorpe’s voice well, giving it a soaring quality that sits with the piano-led sections that interlace the song with a rich warmth and its message of growth. From boys to men, Wild Beasts have changed quite markedly with this record and it’s genuinely their best work yet. It flirts with the past yet constantly looks to the future and it’s delicious, sultry and dirty enough to pay homage their catalogue without it becoming cliché. It steps far enough away from that past to draw the band into new directions and is all the better for it.
8.5 / 10
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