Album Review: Wild Beasts – Limbo, Panto (Domino)

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MP3: Wild Beasts – Vigil for a Fuddy Duddy

“Room a catacomb, this ghoul a balloon, with the breath from beneath your breast, yes that is best,” opens Wild Beasts’ Domino debut (Limbo, Panto) with Hayden Thorpe’s enormous cry. Even though everything Wild Beasts pull out of their English bag of tricks could have been predicted after just a few verses of Thorpe’s howl, they’ll still surprise you every time.

Recently I’ve been noticing beat emphasis when I listen to music, namely which beats the artists choose to bring out, which they choose to diminish. It’s more important than you would think. The success of those waltzy end-of-the-album tracks that seem all too abundant in modern music (usually) relies on the first beat of every measure to strike the listener. LCD Soundsystem’s “New York I Love You (But You’re Bringing Me Down)” comes to mind; saving the emphasis for one beat makes for an effective song. This is Wild Beasts’ greatest strength.  They know which beats are useful to them, which aren’t, and how to manipulate this information in a subtle manner.

Where a lot of bands go wrong is in placing emphasis on all the beats, thinking that every beat should have that “wow” factor. This is equivalent to highlighting every word in your college textbooks. Who cares about any of the text in it if you’re just going to coat the book in more ink? While Wild Beasts do use this principle on occasion, it is always to their advantage. “The Club of Fathomless Love” starts of with an explosion of bass, drums, guitar, and Thorpe’s remarkable shout. With the vocabulary of a thousand English majors, Wild Beasts expresses what it is to be a man. Every beat seems to come at the same instant, every instant. Normally, this would diminish the effect of all the beats collectively, but in this instance, Wild Beasts transcend the standards of pop song structure to an elevated plane. Hayden Thorpe’s cathartic cry appeals to an unknown higher power, “But I’m not a soft touch and I won’t been seen as such, so full with fierce fathomless love, I spit and have spats to be tough, show I’m not soppy and stuff.”

As I sit in the studio of the radio station where I work, I can’t help but wonder which tracks are the most appropriate to play during my show. “The Devil’s Crayon” is the most obvious candidate, with bassist Tom Fleming picking up vocal duties in a just as effective manner as Hayden Thorpe. Its brilliant guitar work goes shamelessly unnoticed as Fleming triumphantly bellows: “This truly is the Devil’s crayon, tracing your shoulder blades aglow like rayon.”

One must also consider “Brace Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants” in this situation. It’s danceable.  It’s fun.  Yet, it’s totally out of place. That bass line and Chris Talbot’s work with the wood block scream “good times” just as much as Thorpe does. We hear “To make the most before we turn to ghost,” repeated four times before vocal harmonies come in to sweep you off your feet. It serves as a somewhat upbeat conclusion to an otherwise pessimistic album.  And despite its red herring quality, it’s very welcome.

As I search for ways to describe this record, I can’t seem to get past the term “human crisis.” Wild Beasts bare their souls on Limbo, Panto.  This is a work of many sleepless nights, of false hopes.  Tears must have been shed. What’s wonderful about music is that if it’s expressed well, the listener becomes sympathetic towards the artist. On Limbo, Panto, Wild Beasts go beyond expecting sympathy from their listener. You experience their emotion whether you like it or not.

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