These gents have acquired taste written all over them—quirky pads of dark synths; herky-jerky beats that never settle on straight 4/4 rock groove; and, most contentiously, a near-sexual obsession with highly-dramatic falsetto and operatic preening. When this site reviewed their last effort, 2009's exceptional Two Dancers, these were all attributes that we pointed to in illustrating the brave conviction of this band. While this trait remains, Smother finds Wild Beasts less concerned with being bold and a little more focused on being quietly strange. Where Two Dancers often wailed and shouted its peculiarities to the world, Smother is delicate in its expressions.
Opener "Lion's Share" doesn't even introduce a beat into the proceedings, instead allowing singers Tom Flemming and Hayden Thrope to trade lines loaded with oblique ferocity: "I wait until you're woozy/I wait until you're lame/I take you in my mouth like a lion takes its game"; "Boy, what you running from?"; "I took the lion's share/not 'cause I didn't care/but just because it was there". It's a subtle, voyeuristic intro to a record that commits itself to the observation that "people are the strangest things".
Throughout, their characteristically shadowy sound ebbs and flows around the always thoughtful drumming of Chris Talbot. His signature approach to time-keeping sets itself on Smother as possibly their greatest asset—never taking a direct route through the tune, but always remaining immediate and embraceable. For a band as off-kilter as Wild Beasts are, it becomes the compass that keeps the album navigable and stable—from the stark stomp of "Plaything", the gently tumbling "Deeper", the bouncing "Reach a Bit Further" and all points in between, his drumming is an understated star.
As for the other 3/4 of the group, they show more than ever a desire to stay in the margins. Even their trademark breathy vocals are rarely overstated. Is this a tentativeness? Hardly. Smother has a coy elusiveness about it, for sure, but it's also supremely confident. On just their third album, Wild Beasts' bitter romanticism is making a case for them being one of the most special young bands working today. A taste not for everyone's palette, but one that is an indispensably heady indulgence once embraced.