There’s so much to contend with musically, so many scenes, artists and micro-genres that flare up sputter out and die, so much momentum both forward, backward and laterally that trying to be a reasonably conscientious listener circa the 00’s has been almost impossible. A full time job, which if it is your full-time job is just about manageable I imagine, but if you’re a mere punter, especially one for whom music is but one of your abiding obsessions, it’s almost impossible to absorb the sheer hyper-abundance of music new and old that’s regularly laid at your doorstep/ stumbled upon.
This much is widely known and is merely a preamble to what I really want to talk about, which is: love.
Is there any record of the last five years or so that I can honestly say I love, any record I have repeatedly returned to, any record that has moved me deeply, that gets into my bones, produces that fluttering in the pit of your stomach, that elevated, swooning sense of transport, of attachment and identification? One that produces an odd sense of faith in humanity, in its possibilities, the range of the imagination in all its surprising strangeness and richness? Any record that humbles you, that pains and delights you in equal measure, that feels beyond you in the way great work should?
Are you even allowed to make such claims for a record these days? A consequence of the glut not just of music but of critical voices is bet-hedging, there is a certain canon of giants we can all broadly agree on as we all equally agree we live in diminished times, cautiously approving this or that interesting development along the way: passionate enthusiasm for a record seem gauche, or at least a little reckless, ill judged. A certain dry sociology seems to predominate, a second guessing of trends and a formulating of genres, positioning oneself with regard to theory, history. None of this is per se wrong, but without being prepared to be wrong, without being prepared to embarrass yourself, things get creaky and stale.
Anyway, the record in question is the debut album by the Wild Beasts.
This is not a record that I find “interesting” in anyway, it’s a record I love. I love it for several reasons, firstly for the extravagant power and poetry of its lyrics, for its unashamed and unabashed desire to be poetic, secondly for its sheer insistent idiosyncrasy, its absolute determination to follow its instincts into wild and windswept territory. I also love its Englishness, its absurdism, its theatrics, its seaside postcard naughtiness its cherubic choirboy innocence, its horny-handed lusty paganism, it’s celebration and its sense of loss.
I also think its a very Northern record, there’s something in its defiant, non-hipsterish artiness, in its revelling in bloody-minded pretension that could in some ways only come from the North, from small towns, grey slate and looming hills, an imagination that could only be nurtured in quiet places, close to the countryside where time and history hang heavy: the dreams here are deeper, richer, more engulfing and necessary than they ever can be in the capitol. The Wild Beasts are great adepts not of England’s dreaming as much as of its Dreamtime, mining a rich seam of English reverie. The use of archaisms, elaborately florid language and sombre rustic imagery add to the sense that the songs and the singers inhabit an arcane, magical world. The albums title conjures it up perfectly, “Limbo, Panto”.
The vocal chores on the album are split between Hayden Thorpe (falsetto) and Tom Fleming. The falsetto vocal, post “Grace” is a wearying cliché, sensitive new-man modulations in Keane and Radiohead, but Thorpe’s falsetto is an all together different prospect, deployed for a pointedly a-typical set of affects, queenishly vamping or striking out at oddly surreal angles, more akin to the disturbing camp of The Tiger Lillies or the Associates. Imagine a wild combination of early U2, the Associates and The Blue Orchids. Sounds like a horribly unpalatable farrago, and in some sense it is, yet it's also, due to its singular conviction, uniquely, awkwardly powerful and beautiful.
All of this is carried forward in the music’s chiming, interlocking grooves, a kind of knockabout Music Hall thump-along, a spit and sawdust knees-up in some backwater pub. There’s a sense of something faintly antique in the music too, of dusty clockwork and rusted cogs, pendulums and gyroscopes, dark panelled wood, gleaming horse brass and dust motes scintillating in the sunlight. The vocals soar and swoop, tremble at crystalline heights and drop down to earthy, hotly embodied growls and grunts. The Wild Beasts understand the fullness of life, its range, the ways in which it’s both farcical and fearful, the delirious enormity of existence and are determined to have it, to have as much of themselves and as much of life as possible, beyond all considerations of decency or appropriacy. It’s an immoderate album, immature in the best sense of that word: it has yet to acknowledge any constraints: it overflows with reckless becoming.
*I really like the follow –up “Two Dancers” but can’t escape the feeling that somone from the record company buttonholed them and told them to tone it down a bit, to write a more restrained record. Maybe not, but I wish they would just let themselves go, offer up something heroically uncontrolled. I’m holding out hope for the next one, but given they’ve moved to Dalston, I’m not optimistic.