Wild Beasts’ debut album of 2008, ‘Limbo, Panto’, was fascinating. Initially dismissed by this writer after a couple of lazy listens, it seemed absurd of vocal and limited of compositional scope. What an idiot. Several plays later it proved to be one of the year’s best: dazzlingly original of design and ambitious of artistry, yet possessing pop hooks mighty enough to dig deep into the mainstream.
Despite the brilliance of singles ‘The Devil’s Crayon’ and ‘Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants’, the Kendal-formed four-piece struggled to attract the audiences they deserved, and ‘Limbo, Panto’ – while celebrated critically – hardly flew off the shelves. But creativity isn’t reliant on commercial successes, as this second album is a testament to: a considerable progression from its predecessor, ‘Two Dancers’ is an instantly engaging delight of a long-player, uniquely idiosyncratic but never allowing its singular stylistic traits to become unsettlingly overbearing. A true balance between accessibility and experimentation is achieved with beguiling elegance.
The vocals of Hayden Thorpe may still prove a stumbling block for some, but the frontman’s oscillating falsetto is an essential characteristic of the Wild Beasts mix. It brings dramatic overtones to immersive lead single ‘Hooting & Howling’, a song so sublime of percussive playfulness it’s puzzling that Wild Beasts have rarely been seen as a dancefloor-filling proposition; its presence is equally vital across the lusciously lustful ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues’ – perhaps their greatest rush of euphoric escapism yet, with the brilliantly graphic line of “When we pucker up, our lips are bee-stung” – and the twinkling, understated ‘Underbelly’.
Thorpe isn’t Wild Beast’s only vocalist, though, as Tom Fleming steps up to the microphone – as he did spectacularly well on ‘The Devil’s Crayon’ – a number of times on ‘Two Dancers’; the balance between the two is perfect, one voice complementing the other excellently. Fleming’s standout performance is on the record’s title track – part one of it, anyway – a song so deliciously expansive, so full with sound that it fills every crease of your inner ears. It leaves an impression so considerable that it’s completely reasonable to replay the track some five or six times in a row (I have). “Our son was dying, and we could hardly eat,” Fleming intones, bruised ‘til broken, before announcing just prior to an almighty drumbeat cracking the song open: “I’ve seen my children turn away from me.” While much of ‘Two Dancers’ is loquaciously romantic of lyric – postcard saucy, even – here the band Gets Serious, and the effect on the listener is incredible. It’s a song to completely stop you in your stride, to make the hairs stand to attention.
With Thorpe’s divisive performances the only real question mark over this record – to these ears they’re perfect, mind – it’s difficult indeed to not sing the praises of ‘Two Dancers’ as loudly and proudly as possible. It’s a massive step forward from their debut, and a record to remind all that Britain is capable of producing musical mavericks like no other nation – it’s unfeasible to think that a band of Wild Beasts’ exquisite oddness could have formed anywhere but here, where cultures collide and the past lingers in remote villages and timeless customs. Affecting, audacious, captivating of fantastical flourishes, it’s an album to champion ‘til all superlatives are spent. Love it.