WATCH /// WILD BEASTS - BED OF NAILS
How they weren’t nominated for the Mercury Prize, I’ll never know. Kendal’s finest came up with another fine album in the form of "Smother", which latest single "Bed Of Nails" is taken from, and their place as one of the most important modern British bands. The simple, primary coloured video allows the music to do the talking which, when the music is this good, is no bad thing.
The premier pop star on the planet collides with a host of indie darlings and producers on Born This Way - The Remix. Is it an attempt by Lady Gaga to grab some alt. cred or is she just embracing the lesser known acts she loves and wants to shine a light on? Well, I don’t know, you’d have to ask her, but it’s difficult to imagine Ms Germanotta bopping away to The Horrors or Wild Beasts (before going on stage to shoot fireworks from her bosom (or whatever her stage show consists of now)
Also, a quick question; why do remixes always seems to last double the original track’s length and turn the most harmless pop songs into dull club fodder? On …The Remix, only three tracks clock in at under four minutes, with eight others lasting past five. Zedd's rework of "Born This Way" stretches out and outstays its welcome, going from thrilling to bland after three minutes, whilst Foster The People take a shot at making "The Edge Of Glory" a euphoric monster, but retain none of the camp fun of the original.
But it’s not all monotonous beats. R&B blog idol The Weeknd is the man charged with the task of reworking Gaga’s newest single "Marry The Night", and succeeds fairly well in putting his own stamp on the song; throwing in damn fine beat and dreampop synths, before dropping everything for a second half made up of moody piano. Goldfrapp's take on "Judas" is banger, pitchshifting Gaga’s vocal resulting in something that sounds a little like Hercules & Love Affair, only superb. Metronomy's "Yoü and I" remix is far removed from the MOR original, stripping it to the bare, almost ambient bones and is possibly this writer’s remix of the year (it also far outstrips Wild Beasts’ attempt, which isn’t bad but has nothing on Metronomy’s version).
Rounding out the British indie contingent are The Horrors, Hurts and Two Door Cinema Club. The former’s version of "Bloody Mary" is as you’d expect; slow-burning krautrock synths to make The Radiophonic Workshop proud, whereas Manc duo Hurts go a bit dubstep for their “Judas” remix but retain their trademark synthy bombast. Two Door Cinema Club’s remix of "Electric Chapel" is fairly routine, bouncing along with a nice groove that may point to an electronic sound for their second album. The final fifth of the record, made up of Twin Shadow's “Born This Way”, Royksopp's ten minute version of Judas and The Edge Of Glory remixed Sultan & Ned Shepard, makes for a fun close to the record. Twin Shadow’s mix sounds almost like classic era Michael Jackson with one hell of a funky bassline and a pure honest pop nous that’s all but disappeared from the charts, Sultan and Shepard channel Daft Punk to good effect for their track whilst Royksopp present us with a near unrecognisable ten minutes of icy Scandanavian beats.
The rest of the record is fairly dull and predictable save for a few tracks; "Scheiße", "Americano" and "Black Jesus + Amen Fashion" are your typical euphoric club tunes that never seem to get played in clubs. You begin to think they’re only included for mainstream radio airplay or to lure in those who prefer their dance music dumber that a Transformers movie.
Born This Way - The Remix is one of the better remix albums to be associated with a top level popstar and it helps that Gaga (or her label) has been fairly eclectic in her choice of remixers. God knows no one wants a Skrillex or James Blake remix anywhere near Gaga. The fact that her songs can be moulded and morphed into pretty much any shape is a sign that Lady Gaga is here to stay.
The always wonderful Wild Beasts, not content with being on tour right this second have announced further dates for next spring. Continuing to support their third album Smother (currently in 8th place in the Hitsville Best Album of 2011 poll…), the Lake District foursome will be taking over the following places in March 2012:
- 11th - WARWICK @ University
- 12th - NORWICH @ Waterfront
- 13th - COLCHESTER @ Arts Centre
- 14th - EXETER @ Phoenix
- 15th - FALMOUTH @ Pavillion
- 16th - CARDIFF @ Coal Exchange
- 17th - LIVERPOOL @ Masque Theatre
The further Wild Beasts get in their career the more of a misnomer their name becomes. The Lake District quartet began racous and rowdy but still refined, but from second album Two Dancers to Smother, they’ve most definitely decided less is more. Their sound is now more mature and layered, smooth and sultry; as tender and refined as The Smiths, but with a perpetual undercurrent of sexuality lingering (for example “Plaything”, a stripped back ode to stripping off). It’s not all hanky panky though; Albatross is a haunting ballad whilst “Reach A Bit Further” features the amazing interplay between co-vocalists Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming.
The true standout is the epic closer “End Come Too Soon”. The most ambitious track the quartet have attempted and possibly the best thing they’ve ever recorded, it glides along on a subtle groove and dreamlike guitars. With Smother, Wild Beasts continue to be the most astonishingly unique band in the country and are most certainly one of those rare once-in-a-generation groups.
It’s over. We can no longer keep posting filler “end of year” lists. It’s back to real blogging now…
The Hitsville Albums Of 2011 List, as voted for by you, in full:
- Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See
- Laura Marling - A Creature I Don’t Know
- Bon Iver - Bon Iver
- The Horrors - Skying
- Wu Lyf - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain
- Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch The Throne
- SBTRKT - SBTRKT
- Metronomy - The English Riviera
- Wild Beasts - Smother
- Tyler, The Creator - Goblin
- Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
- Bombay Bicycle Club - A Different Kind Of Fix
- The Chapman Family - Burn Your Town
- PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
- James Blake - James Blake
- Nicola Roberts - Cinderella’s Eyes
- Slow Club - Paradise
- Mastodon - The Hunter
- Elbow - Build A Rocket Boys!
- Drake - Take Care
- The Weeknd - House Of Balloons/Thursday
- Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything
- Friendly Fires - Pala
- Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise
- Youth Lagoon - The Year Of Hibernation
- M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
- Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx - We’re New Here
- Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring For My Halo
- Noel Gallagher - Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
- Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
- Lil B - I’m Gay (I’m Happy)
- Radiohead - The King Of Limbs
- Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto
- Terius Nash - 1977
- The Antlers - Burst Apart
- Yuck - Yuck
- Shabazz Palaces - Black Up
- The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar
- The Vaccines - What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
- Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat - Everything’s Getting Older
- Battles - Gloss Drop
- Tom Waits - Bad As Me
- Real Estate - Days
- Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
- Noah And The Whale - Last Night On Earth
- Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
- St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
- Childish Gambino - Camp
- Death Grips - Exmilitary
- Patrick Wolf - Lupercalia
There you have it, your fifty albums of the year. Pretty eclectic bunch aren’t you? Some superb picks alongside some, well, not so superb picks. At least Lulu wasn’t in there…
Watch: Wild Beasts - “Wanderlust”: Feels like forever since Smother was released in 2011, doesn’t it? The album which many hoped would cement Wild Beasts as one of Britain’s premier bands (and Mercury Prize winners) didn’t quite achieve that, but now, three years later, the Kendal quartet are back. Presumably “Wanderlust” heralds a new album arriving later in the year, and you imagine the heavy percussion and looping synths here point to a new sonic direction. The lyrics seem more biting and direct than before too: "Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck/Funny how that little pound buys a lot of luck”.
In their infancy Wild Beasts were one of the most unique, idiosyncratic bands in the world, let alone the country. In the years since their debut album Limbo, Panto, their sound has become less and less immediately identifiable, Hayden Thorpe’s histrionic vocals finding a comfortable middle ground, intricate guitar work finding itself replaced by layers of synths. That’s not to say the band’s output during this transition hasn’t been excellent for the most part, but I’ve always found myself being left a little cold by the sanding down of Wild Beasts’ sharper edges.
So it’s a pleasant surprise that the electronic elements on Present Tense are for the most part, warm and complimentary. The synthesisers may not always work quite so well, and could possibly have given way to guitars at some point for a better end result, but the Kendal quartet seem to have fully mastered their keyboards and how they’re best used. Album opener “Wanderlust” uses the choral effects so popular Oneohtrix Point Seven and Holly Herndon to create a propulsive, ominous rush, which only gets more threatening and uncompromising as it rolls along and the bass becomes more prominent. A coda of “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck/in your mother tongue, what’s the verb ‘to suck’?” certainly adds to the aural scowl, as well as firing shots at over-Americanised contemporaries. Closing track “Palace” evokes Talk Talk playing lullabies and when the guitars and synths both step into the spotlight at the same time on “Sweet Spot”, it’s truly divine. It shimmers and sways and charms its way into your heart where the Wild Beasts of the past would’ve been a little rougher and uncouth. “Daughters” is a complete contrast, built on a backbone of Chris Talbot’s percussion (superb throughout) and possibly the densest the band’s dalliances with electronica has ever been with a cavernous instrumental final third which verges on house music.
Lyrically there’s what could either be seen as a change of focus or a maturation; no longer are Thorpe and Tom Fleming narrating solely through a world of carnality, describing the pleasures of the flesh in ways that would make Prince blush. Instead Present Tense prefers to present situations more tender, more personal and intimate without an intense longing for the old in-out. There’s still a finger in the pie of physical acts - “Palace“‘s "I could learn you like the blinded would do, feeling our way through the dark" and "just surrender your limbs to my every whim/we are lovers, we are cartwheeling" on “Mecca” see to that - but the band’s view is spread wider this time. The gentle “Pregnant Pause” entails that familiar aspect of a relationship, where you have your very own language between the two of you: "speak to me in our tongue/when all the other words only come out wrong". “Nature Boy” details a young man addressing a husband he has cuckolded and is a reference not only to WWE hall of famer and legendary playboy Ric Flair (no mentions of a figure-four leglock however) but, as Thorpe stated in an interview with DIY, “an illustration of that myth of the audacious male who’s all-conquering”, which is a very accurate description of pretty much every wrestling character ever. The aforementioned “Daughters” is as worrisome in its words as its doomy electronic outro would have you imagine; a nightmarish vision of "all the pretty children sharpening their blades" in a possibly apocalyptic future "where my daughter passes only ruins remain".
Present Tense represents an older, wiser Wild Beasts. Their first three albums were more immediate, spreading themselves on a plate, making things available from the get-go, like a young man relentless in flirtation, eager and determined to make an impression. This album is more confident in its abilities, its strengths; it can hold things back, be more subtle, charm and seduce, take its time and not rush headfirst into things. It also casts its net wider, as seen most obviously on “A Dog’s Life”. Maybe it’s just something about me to do with our canine friends (I still well up when thinking about the end of My Dog Skip and that Last Minutes With Oden video on Youtube… dammit, there I go again), but this track detailing the last moments of, you guessed, a dog’s life is so heartbreaking and tender, possibly more so than anything Wild Beasts have done before.
On this album Wild Beasts have made an accomplished and often beautiful evolution. They may not have many of the spikes and snarls and spots of years gone by but they’re a new animal now, even more thrilling and exciting and vital.
Only Slightly Ironic Pop Cover of the day: Fresh from the release of their fourth album Present Tense (which we gave an 8/10), here’s Wild Beasts covering a certain Ms Cyrus at a free show at Other Music in New York. On the scale of “Wrecking Ball” covers & parodies, it’s closer to HAIM’s great take than whatever the hell Hulk Hogan was doing.