Wild Beasts’ Present Tense is a dramatically new album. Gleaming and sparkling with the most intense of 1980s and 1990s electronic sound rethought and retooled with exquisite detail for the 21st century, it doesn't sound like any boys-with-guitars band you've ever heard. And despite the coherence of its sweeping song structures, it wasn't wriIen so much as me.culously constructed from the ground up from .ny phrases and rhythmic fragments, then it was layered together in the studio by Wild Beasts in close collabora.on with co-producers Lexxx and Eno protege Leo Abrahams. “We spent ages programming and piecing individual parts together,” says the band's Chris Talbot, “it was built on computers rather than played first, and we had the feeling that anyone in the band could do anything without feeling they had one role to s.ck to.” Yet somehow it retains all of the coherence that can only come from years playing together in basements and on stages; Wild Beasts have created their own world which the listener has no choice but to enter and immerse themselves in.
And what a beau.ful world it is to come into. It's a poli.cal record in a sense: full of the pride of those who can make their own world and make it beau.ful, despite lack of material wealth – as made explicit in the lead single 'Wanderlust'. It's roman.c too, packed full of apprecia.on of precious moments in a tough world, like the dancefloor cartwheels and seduc.ons of 'Mecca', with its off-centre groove and breathless energy. The electronic clarity of the sound allows the hopes and fears of the songs to shine through all the more dis.nctly, simple yet never naïve, like William Blake'sSongs of Innocence and Experience. And this expression gathers power as the album goes on: in the second half the tempo drops, yet the intense and immersive ballads 'A Dog's Life', 'New Life' and ‘Palace' deliver perhaps the most emo.onal energy of all.
There's a very simple reason that despite its fragmentary beginnings, Present Tense sounds so astoundingly coherent and immediate: Wild Beasts are more of a band than most bands. It's weird, because they've spent their career thus far deconstruc.ng exactly what it is to be a band, trying to escape the constraints of what is expected from four lads playing together – and more so than ever on the deliberately synthe.c, instrument-swapping Present Tense. But here they are, four albums down and more than eight years since they first played together in this lineup, s.ll feeling like a gang, s.ll feeling like a band as it is supposed to be, with a single clear vision and sound. Just a few minutes in a room together with them, seeing how their four dis.nct personali.es play off one another, and it's obvious.
How have they managed this? These four young men from the same rural town, who've known one another from childhood, who've spent years on the rock'n'roll rollercoaster and produced some extraordinary records and shows along the way – how are they s.ll able to, in Hayden's words, “move as one animal”? There are two simple answers to this: first, this is a band who (like all the greatest ar.sts) create their own world, and second, they take nothing for granted. And it's been the case from the day Hayden and Ben, then later Chris, started the band Fauves (“Wild Beasts” in French: ahh the glorious pretension of youth) in the picturesque but conserva.ve surrounds of Kendal, Cumbria – where, as Chris puts it “once you started doing your own thing, there's nothing to distract you from it.”
From there to Leeds, where fellow Kendal boy Tom joined (“I thought it was completely mad, but I could see they were completely making their own world, and that was something I wanted to be a part of”) and where their deal with Domino was done, they kept on not allowing anything outside their world to distract them. And so their debut album, Limbo Panto, made when they were s.ll all only 21, sounds like nothing else on earth. “I almost feel like we're s.ll trying to decode that album for people,” laughs Hayden. “Everything we've done since has been about showing what we meant!”
For all their playful humor and bravado, the band will not rest on their laurels: they truly don't ever try to recapture the past. Though they have lived a non-stop touring life since Limbo Panto, they have at every step taken pause to re-assess the totality of the band and what they all want. You can hear it in the suavely grooving Two Dancers and the more swooning, swooping Smother made ager the band finally leg Leeds for London: while they are indeed part of the con.nual unfolding of Wild Beasts' big ideas, on each the band is completely locked together in a new way. And more so than ever on Present Tense, they have redefined, regrouped and created new ways of working.
For this album, for the first .me, they took .me off touring to formulate and construct it: almost a full year off, in fact. The decompression process and learning to adapt to sta.c life took a while, as did coping with rehearsal spaces with live-in weirdos and cardboard walls – but once again the quartet took the opportuni.es to self-examine, reassess and rearrange their collec.ve process. Ironically for such a self-contained band, it was made open to the world: “when we were puhng it together,” says Tom, “we were connected to the internet; there was always a browser open on the same computer we were recording on, so we would be constantly looking things up and allowing new influences in if we needed inspira.on.”
Yet somehow, they've retained their integrity – intellectual, emo.onal, personal and crea.ve. Each song works as a whole; the album works as a whole; and, perhaps more than ever, the band works as a whole. Ager all, as Tom says: “It's not like we all have one brain, but we recognize that we are what we are, and that decisions have to be made as a band or there's no point to it. Why be in a band if you're not going to do that? There are plenty of other ways to make music.” In the 21st century, when those other ways of making proliferate, when the band as a way of organizing musicians can ogen feel like an archaic thing, Wild Beasts are finding new ways of making it sound like the most modern – and most natural – thing in the world.
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