week on Domino, Smother is the UK group’s most
refined effort yet. Listen to the song “Albatross,” below.
By Jennifer Kelly
Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto
flutters like a hummingbird, swoops and curls like a multi-colored kite in the
wind. He is, if anything, more flamboyant and florid than ever on this, the
Wild Beasts’ third album, yet because he is working against a more meticulously
plotted background, his vocal pyrotechnics seem less shocking, more fitting
this time. Smother continues in the
Mercury Nominated Two Dancers (2009)
path of more disciplined theatricality, finding a way for Thorpe’s wild
fantasias to work as artistry rather than oddity.
Smother is the Wild
Beasts’ most restrained, refined effort yet, paring down hot-house atmospheres
to lush essentials. “Lion’s Share,” the
opener, frames Thorpe’s Jeff Buckley-ish acrobatics with a subtle rhythm of
synthesizer, a scattering of piano notes. There’s a basic discipline here, an
acknowledgement that more could easily be too much, that pulls this song tight
with tension. “Deeper,” one of the album’s best songs, brings out the soul
influence in this artful outfit, allowing suave and stylish vocals to flourish
over the undulation of drums, the subtle colorations of guitar and synthesizer.
If Sade had a brother – and a slight penchant for the baroque – it might sound
like this. Even “Albatross,” with its
whispery glissandos and sudden falsetto flights, is grounded in a crisp,
unemotional drum beat and the chilly glamour of electric piano.
The most striking vocals, however, come at the coda of closer “End
Comes to Soon,” where the pixellated shimmer of guitars and keyboards clears
and the complicated string of lyrics comes to a halt. Thorpe’s wordless
vocalizations (“E-o-o…e-o-o”) cascade over a drifting cloud of piano and
guitar, unfathomably gorgeous, like a jungle bird caught in a wire cage, but
singing beautifully all the same.