Wild Beasts: Two Dancers

While last year's eccentricities remain present and correct, these Wild Beasts are animals of style and grace rather than carousing, rabble-rousing indie-pomp.

Wild Beasts

Two Dancers

Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2009-09-08
UK Release Date: 2009-08-03

Wild Beasts have a reputation as an acquired taste. Last year's debut Limbo, Panto cemented the suggestion of their early singles that here was a band that is eccentric, ambitious and courageous, content to repel as many listeners as they win over. They created sinister, gaudy melodramas revolving around their British homeland, its romantics and its reprobates with a lurid poeticism of an almost Wildean ilk. They penned song titles like "Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants" and "She Purred While I Grrrred" and lyrics such as "My top's off / I'm a goosepimpled god / upon my girth rests the earth / gonna give it what I've got". Worse still for those on the wrong side of the fence, their lead singer was the proprietor of a wildly theatrical, gleefully unhinged falsetto which he was intent on flourishing recklessly at every opportunity. It is little surprise, then, that even amongst the critical applause Wild Beasts became renowned for Hayden Thorpe's vocal chords over anything else. That is a shame, really, because Limbo, Panto can also proudly lay claim to some of the finest hooks of 2008, delivered with striking originality and depth and clarity that belied the youth of the Kendal-born, Leeds-based quartet.

This, then, is where Two Dancers comes in. Coming a little over a year after its predecessor, it is immediately apparent that this is an album far less raw, much less boisterous. The idiosyncrasies are all still here: the vicarious lyricism; Thorpe's vocal dramatics; bassist Tom Fleming's deep, rounded croon; the shivering, shimmering guitar; the lustful prancing and peacocking. The difference, though not always stark, is in delivery (production values are unprecedentedly squeaky-clean, too, but that's another story). Where Limbo swung open with a swaggering kick of a drum and Thorpe strutting his way onto the scene, heralded by his own falsetto, Two Dancers begins tentatively, with electronic murmurs intercepted by a slowly grooving bassline and soft chimes of guitar. Even when the resultant song, "The Fun Powder Plot" (their taste for song-title whimsy is still intact), kicks off proper, it's one of style and grace rather than carousing, rabble-rousing indie-pomp.

That's not to imply that Wild Beasts have mellowed and matured beyond what made them such a capricious delight, but they have palpably mellowed and matured. Two Dancers isn't an abandonment of what some see as their most troublesome traits in favor of the mainstream success those same fans feel the band could quite easily otherwise achieve. It is an accommodation of those habits within a streamlined, fine-tuned, altogether more balanced whole. To illustrate, those trademark Thorpe histrionics remain relatively leashed until the fourth track "When I'm Sleepy", when their employment isn't an arbitrary whim but the ideal, oozing delivery for the ribald refrain, "When he's sleepy / eating supper / you're the lips for him to pucker". Fleming's debonair tenor, all but restricted to a supporting role on Limbo, takes charge of four of the 10 offerings here, but again this feels like an aesthetic choice, rather than the product of any ulterior designs on accessibility. Fleming suits the title-track's waves of reverb-heavy guitar better than Thorpe, for instance.

It's hard to see Fleming's increased profile as a bad thing. In any other outfit, he would be a cherished frontman -- yet another indicator, if one were ever needed, of just how arresting his bandmate's voice is. Nonetheless, "The Devil's Crayon", bossed by Fleming's unflappable yet curiously affecting tone, was Limbo's best four minutes by, if not a country mile, then at least a rural yard. Here, his Cumbrian-accented impassivity has a similar effect on "All the King's Men", striding suavely alongside buoyant, bobbing backing chants and Thorpe's breathless yelps. It's this sort of interplay that makes Wild Beasts work so well, but the attack is three-pronged, rather than two-. There are countless instances on Two Dancers when both vocalists step aside entirely and let guitarist Ben Little take center-stage in a way he was rarely granted previously. Lead single "Hooting and Howling" has a superb staccato motif stamped all over it, while on the ebullient "We Still Got the Taste Dancing On Our Tongues" is memorable as much for Little's shimmering stacks of reverb-frosted guitar as it is the Thorpe's wordless, quavering refrain.

It's the tail-end of Two Dancers, however, that contains the most telling sign of Wild Beasts' evolution. The gorgeous "This Is Our Lot" finds solemn elegance amid the desperation of a Friday night dancefloor mating ritual, all ranks perfectly judged and beautifully restrained, while the lovely, though abruptly truncated, "Underbelly" is stripped back further, a somber Thorpe alone with only a piano's company before he gives up the ghost to leave a trail of twinkling electronics. Album closer "The Empty Nest" is reminiscent of its Limbo counterpart in the seaworthy sway of its choral backing, but as it -- and its parent record -- draws resignedly to a rest amid crackles of guitar, the comparison only serves to highlight just how graceful, refined and beguiling everything is this time around. Two Dancers marks a big step forward for Wild Beasts. The eccentricities are still present, the quirks still correct, but everything has been shepherded into a more cohesive, frequently more melancholy, totality. These are beasts not tamed, as such, but those who've learned when to hold back, and when to sink in their teeth.





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.