That Wild Beasts wouldn't win the 2010 Mercury Prize for their sophomore album was almost a given. (The XX were shoo-ins.) But the nomination was a tangible endorsement of how far the band had come from the hit-and-miss lottery of their debut. With their latest, Smother, that development has accelerated even further. Where they've ended up seems to be exclusively populated with soft, swirling melodies, soaring falsettos and quite a lot of mirrors (for self-reflection, not vanity).
The vast majority of the falsetto in question belongs to Hayden Thorpe, who takes the lead on more tracks than any album to date. Thorpe's prominence gives Smother an incredibly delicate feel. Tracks like "Invisible" and lead single "Albatross" drift like dark patches of steam caught in a gentle breeze, yet never fail to make their presence felt. Both humour and baroque references—past Wild Beasts staples—are also rife. Offered up with a self-aware confidence that's simultaneously dark and illuminating, lines such as "New squeeze, take off your chemise / And I'll do it up as I please" and "I wait until you're weary and I know until you're lame / I take you in my mouth like a lion takes his game" linger pleasingly on both the ears and the mind's eye.
Three gems, however, shine just a little brighter than those they sit among. Album opener "Lion's Share" is a stripped-down, piano and vocal-led masterpiece, and a showcase for how well bassist and second vocalist Tom Flemming's hypnotic voice works both in tandem and without Thorpe. The aforementioned "Albatross," meanwhile, twinkles with considerable subtly. And then there's the moving album closer "End Come Too Soon." Its winking title is funnier than it is irritating. And it's hard to argue with the result anyway: Its slow build and aching vocals stand out as a purposeful moment of perfection on a record chock full of them.
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Tracklist: Wild Beasts - Smother 01. Lion's Share
02. Bed of Nails
04. Loop the Loop
08. Reach a Bit Further
10. End Come Too Soon