Wild Beasts–TWO DANCERS (2009)

220px-wildbeasts-twodancersReviewed by B.B. Fultz

Assigned by Oliver Lewis

I’m pretty rusty on review writing and I promised to get this one in tonight, so I’m just going to do a song for song take and give you my general impressions.

The Fun Powder Plot — Interesting beginning. Peaceful, lethargic, synthy background that lulls you to relax. Almost ambient at first, but then picking up momentum and moving in a direction instead of just meandering as ambient would. Strange vocals. I thought it was a woman at first. After a few verses it dropped in register and sort of sounded like Dave Vanian from The Damned. A half-gothic half-comic croon. Hard to describe. I couldn’t make out most of the words but the voice blended in well with the music. I wanted to understand the words because with a title like The Fun Powder Plot it’s not clear what the song is about, and I’m still curious. I guess I can google the lyrics later. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this one.

Hooting & Howling — This singer has a really interesting style. He shifts from an almost soprano croon down to a warbly tenor, often in the same line. This song starts with a simple bass pattern, then builds up into a busy (yet still somehow ethereal sounding) rhythm with quiet interludes. Sustained keyboard notes, little bongo riffs, guitar pings. It reminds me of The Cure crossed with early 80s Psychedelic Furs. The vocals are more varied here and put to better effect in this song than the first. I kinda dig this one.

All The King’s Men — “Normal” vocals for this one, mostly. With some screechy high vocals in the mix. It reminds me a little of the Mercury-May “high/low dialogue” in Brighton Rock. A cool percussion drives this song, bap bap ba ba ba doom, with all kinds of pretty little embellishments. It’s hard to describe but it’s all done to great effect. For some reason I can’t explain at the moment, it reminded me of that early 80s band Big Country. The percussion mainly, which feels Celtic somehow. And maybe it is. I actually like this song quite a bit. It’s really catchy but not in an obvious way. You have to pay attention to it or you might miss the hook. It’s worth seeking though. It’s a good song. Rather than going strictly for atmosphere this time, they actually try for a more traditional song structure, except with a lot of different things going on between the different instruments, and even the vocals. I’ve listened to this one a few times and every time I hear it, I hear something more in it, and subsequently I like it a little more. There’s something irresistible about the way it all dovetails together in a hundred unlikely patterns. It’s like a kid making seemingly random squiggles with a spirograph but when you step back they somehow connect into an amazing design.

When I’m Sleepy — Okay so what the hell’s up with that “Excuse me sir, would you happen to know the time? Yeah bitch, it’s time to –” intro??? So far it’s in three songs in a row and I still don’t get the point of it. It’s time to track, as in record the album? It’s time to trap, as in trap music? It’s time to trek, as in nerd out? What? What is that? … … … This one’s weird and airy and hard to pin down. The percussion is all that anchors it from floating away I guess. It’s not very hooky and before you can try to get into it, it’s over. I’m drawing a blank here.

We Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues — I guess the stupid intro is going to be a regular thing. I wonder why they excluded it from the first song but not the others? Life is full of mysteries. This is another one that sounds like it’s from some New Romantic band in the early 80s. No great shakes, but pleasant. Oddly, the most memorable hook is the weird vocal trick where he sings “tongues” as a five syllable word. He has a freaky voice, but at least he knows how to use it to interesting effect.

Two Dancers — Another intriguing percussion pattern. These guys seem to favor upfront percussion. The drumming plays the lead role in this song, in the same way another band would use a guitar. It’s too prominent in the mix to just be considered a rhythm section. The other sounds are again ethereal and disjointed. I’m not sure I’ll remember this later, but it’s an interesting listen when it’s playing.

Two Dancers II — At least the dumb spoken intro is gone. This is another ethereal song full of strange little pings and pongs, and a catchy tap-tap-tap-tap drum shuffle. He goes for a deep croon on this one. His voice gets interesting in this lower register, almost like a Brian Ferry pastiche. Not the sound of his voice so much as his style, if you follow me. Just when I started to like it, it was over.

This Is Our Lot — These guys really love atmosphere. This one’s got the stuttery guitar lead, bubbly bass, and complicated drum tattoo of some really inspired sophisti-rock song from the New Romantic era. This is a pretty good song. The singer goes for a mid range (for him) croon here that might take some getting used to — he seems to be at his strongest when he’s much higher or much lower. But I forgive the voice because the music behind the voice is elaborate and interesting. The bass and drums dance together like old lovers.

Underbelly — The dumb intro is back. Doesn’t this guy know the fucking time yet? Why does he keep bothering the other guy? Doesn’t he know the other guy is trying to track? Or trap? Or trek? People can be so annoying … … … this one’s got a weird echoey monotone beginning with an almost operatic vocal, then becomes a music box of sorts, playing something Eastern and mystical. It’s maybe the strangest song so far. And then it cuts off. Right in the middle of whatever it was doing. I don’t get it. And it’s so short that I didn’t have much time to try.

Empty Nest — Should I call this one haunting? I don’t know. It’s strange, like the rest of the songs. I can’t resonate with it on an emotional level because my brain is too busy trying to internalize this weird music. Not a criticism, just an observation. This one’s melodic, with a lot of interesting rises and falls. That “gone gone gone gone” is haunting though. And hooky. When the higher “going going gone” weaves into it, it’s almost magical. Which is to say it’s greater than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t seem like it should be anything special, but somehow it is. The whole song has a dreamy kind of sway to it. The rest of the songs mostly passed me by in a pleasant but forgettable blur. But Empty Nest stuck with me. I just listened to it again and I was wrong. I CAN resonate with this song. At least after I had time to get used to it. It’s the kind of thing you should play a few times before judging it. Its greatness is subtle and it creeps up on you. It crept up on me, at least.

In Summation …

I liked this album. It’s not something I’d be in the mood for every day, but when I’m in the mood for New Romantic or Sophisti-Rock, or just something that reminds me of those strange days in the early 80s where the music was getting as weird as the hair, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw this on. My one main complaint — and it applies to nearly all of the songs — was that the songs were too short. They take a little while to get your head into the same groove, and when you’re starting to feel like you’re getting into them, they’re over. Some are over before you even half get into them. I guess if the songs were bad, they’d seem too LONG, so the songs seeming too short must mean they’re good songs. Or at the very least, interesting songs. If you can get past the sometimes ear-grating vocals and the fact that most of the songs sound the same, you might dig this. It’s not stunningly great but on the other hand there’s nothing all that wrong with it either. For the kind of music they were going for, I’d say they acquitted themselves more than adequately. Thumbs up.

Best song : ALL THE KING’S MEN and/or EMPTY NEST