Wild Beasts perform in Australia in 2014. (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
I was incredibly sad to read a letter on Instagram Monday morning from the British band Wild Beasts, announcing their impending split. They’ve been together for 13 years and five albums and they’ve mutually decided to part ways. Leave a good thing whilst it’s still good. I’m disappointed that now I’ll definitely never get to see them perform live, aside from videos on the internet — and based on those videos, they give a damn good live performance. Though, to be honest, it’s not like they make Minneapolis a regular tour stop anyway. (They did visit The Current for a session in 2010, but unfortunately that was before I worked at Minnesota Public Radio.)
Wild Beasts came on my radar a few years ago, via my discovery of alt-J. Interestingly, alt-J supported Wild Beasts when they were touring their third album, Smother, and alt-J hadn’t quite released their debut An Awesome Wave. Those two bands would actually fit together really well on a bill; they each sound like no other band out there (which is personally why I was attracted to them), they have intricate and beautiful instrumentation (and no cymbals, really), beautiful melody lines, weird lyrics that are sometimes literary, sometimes using BIG DICTIONARY WORDS, often sensual in a creepy or downright filthy way.
Both frontmen also have unusual potentially divisive voices. I remember hating Joe Newman’s voice when I first heard alt-J’s “Matilda,” but I loved the music. Pretty quickly, the gorgeous melodies and instrumentals mixed with stellar percussion actually won me over enough that I grew to appreciate his singing as part of the band’s unique aesthetic. An Awesome Wave is now my favorite album ever; it’s my go-to if I want to listen to music, but don’t have anything in particular in mind. I know people tend to either love it or hate it, but I think it’s a masterpiece because it’s inventive, beautiful, and it feels like one cohesive work.
Hayden Thorpe of Wild Beasts, though…I just could not get on board with his voice that quickly. I distinctly remember trying Wild Beasts a few years ago by starting with the first track on Two Dancers, a 2009 Mercury Prize finalist. “Fun Powder Plot” has a full 90 seconds of intro before any singing starts. I remember feeling the instrumental intro, but as soon as Thorpe’s melodramatic falsetto came in, I wasn’t having any of it. I thought it was creepy and off-putting, which was the same opinion I had of Joe Newman’s voice, but it took me a few years rather than a few weeks to come to appreciate and love Thorpe’s voice.
I came back to Wild Beasts last summer when their latest album, Boy King, came out. Boy King went in a totally different direction than their previous albums – very funky and extremely macho. I gather that a lot of fans weren’t necessarily keen on this drastic change of sound, but I liked “Big Cat” and that was my gateway into a re-exploration of Wild Beasts. Over the next eight months I slowly explored their back catalog and loved a lot of what I’d found.
Here are my picks for the best example from each of their five albums. Very sorry to see you go, Wild Beasts. Thanks for the excellent output over the last decade. Oh, and by the way, I love “Fun Powder Plot” now.
Limbo, Panto (2008)
Okay, this album is still too over-the-top for me to listen to much, but here’s a classic from it.
Two Dancers (2009)
Beautiful dance-y song about Wild Beasts’ favorite topic: sex.
Another gorgeous dance-y song about…well, you know.
Present Tense (2014)
My favorite Wild Beasts album. “Mecca” not only is a beautiful song about love, but also has a lovely music video. I love the vocal interplay between Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto and Tom Fleming’s baritone. I’ve watched it a gazillion times because I love the color scheme and I find it mesmerizing. The remix by Sohn is really good too!
Boy King (2016)
A total departure in sound for what became their last album. “Big Cat” got me to try them again, so I’m fond of it. I also watched this video a lot for some reason – I don’t understand why they use (SPOILER) a wolf at the end instead of an actual big cat, though. I think the song is actually about big evil corporations, but somehow Wild Beasts still make it sound sexy. It’s what they do best.