It’s the day after Speech Debelle was announced as the winner of 2009’s Mercury Prize, in a pretty strong line-up with at least six nominees I’d have been happy to see win. Stonking super-pop in Friendly Fires’ self-titled debut, visceral darkness in The Horrors’ surprisingly brilliant second album and the recorded-in-a-shed warmth of Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s beautiful Twice Born Men. It goes on; smooth, seamless, intricate melodies in The Invisible’s offering and soft, sky-high vocal-led stuff of dreams in Bat For Lashes’ Two Suns – there were some brilliant choices for sure. But nothing in that list of 12 came anywhere near close to Wild Beasts’ Two Dancers.
A huge leap from their admittedy jaw-to-the-floor debut Limbo, Panto, Kendall’s famous four have done that thing so few bands succeed at; they’ve made me want to listen to nothing else but Two Dancers, again and again and again. The album’s a journey of difficult characterisations and grotesque hedonism, an honest personfication to melt in and adore.
Wild Beasts make most music sound like a poor re-hash of something that was never that great in the first place. They blew away Offset festival last Sunday, after I had the chance to catch up with them on a piece of grass under a tree next to a car park.
The lyrics on Two Dancers, taken in isolation from the music, are breathtaking. “We see lyrics as an instrument,” says Tom Fleming. If for some strange reason you’ve not heard the album yet (hey, here it is on Spotify!), here’s a cut from ‘Hooting and Howling’:
Carry me hooting and howling, to the river to wash off my hands of the hot blood, the sweat and the sand.
Any rival who goes for our girls will be left thumb sucking in terror and bereft of all coffin bearers.
A crude art, a bovver-boot ballet. Equally elegant and ugly.
I was as thrilled as I was appalled, courting him in fisticuffing waltz.
Now I’m not saying the lads always deserve a braying.
And I’m not saying the girls are worth the fines I’m paying.
We’re just brutes bored in our bovver boots. We’re just brutes clowning ‘round in cahoots.
We’re just brutes looking for shops to loot. We’re just brutes hoping to have a hoot…
It’s showy, sharp, archaic and heart-stoppingly honest, as honest as the crystalline sound on the album. And Tom is pleased everyone’s talking about Two Dancers. “My favourite music always wrong foots me – it makes me think ‘hang on a second, what’s this?’ So if it’s doing that to people, then that’s got to be a great thing.”
Hayden Thorpe, he of the blindsiding falsetto, is far more softly-spoken than expected, but nonetheless of a similar opinion to bandmate Tom: “We want to give enough away to give people a picture and then leave enough room for people to attach themselves to it and put their own spin on it”. He continues: “People are clever enough to not need everything explained to them straight away.”
Two Dancers feels tireless. “We try and avoid making sense straight away because we don’t want to have a sell-by-date. We want to allow room for development for ourselves as well.” They’re far from carried away by the tide.
“A lot of the album focuses on abandoning known behaviours. It’s quite indulgent, in a way,” he continues, before Tom interjects: “It’s structured like a collapse.” Two Dancers‘ ordering makes its ups and downs all the more succinct. “We had to work hard at getting the album to sound the way it does,” says drummer Chris Talbot.
Hayden is equally reflective: “It was like putting a film together after it’d been filmed, or a pack of cards. Where do you put the twist, where do you put the stick? You have to be space-efficient – make your point and get out.” Wild Beasts are self-aware, which ought to be a granted but instead proves rather surprising in the context of such a real-sounding album. “A lot of songs on the album are small,” offers Tom. “It’s supposed to be a short, sharp shock. It’s an aesthetic we always had.”
And that’s the crux of just why the album’s intracies and idiosyncrasies don’t overwhelm the listener. “I want people to get something positive out of it. It goes to some pretty bad places but it comes out smiling,” he continues. Benny Little, fairly quiet until now, cuts in: “I want people to wonder what we’re going to do next.
Hayden says the band underestimated how much they stood out on the release of first album Limbo, Panto. Not that it was a bad thing, just that he’s now more switched on. Both in terms of the perception of Two Dancers and the way it is, and indeed ought to be, taken in. “You have to go outside of your comfort zone, give yourself to it and defend it.”
He puts an almost third-party perspective on the album: “You see someone going out of their way to give you something more and then you return their favour with faith and belief. If people don’t do this then I can see why it wouldn’t work. You have to believe in characters.”
“I hope we open up a door that people didn’t think about, shine a light on something people haven’t seen before.”
Wild Beasts, you wholeheartedly have succeeded in making not only an album opening up minds, but the most sublime album of 2009. It’s a new benchmark for music, a stand-out piece in a sea of re-hash; a truly original, elegant, loveable, idiosyncratic arrangement full of warmth that just begs to be loved. And you’re just lovely.