Album review: "Smother"
Quirky and affecting or grating and excessive? One single factor will determine how listeners receive Wild Beasts’ third album, “Smother.”
The band’s most distinguishing feature is Hayden Thorpe’s striking countertenor. His voice is a powerful instrument, but it can be an acquired taste. It is both showy and emotive, reaching poignant peaks on the high notes and soulful moans on the low notes. In other terms, think of Thorpe as the less fragile cousin of Antony Hegarty of Antony & the Johnsons and a less campy version of the Darkness’s Justin Hawkins.
Thorpe’s band isn’t nearly as distinctive. The consistently quiet arrangements and slow tempos prevent many of the tracks from standing out.
The songs are uniformly brooding. Pensive opener “Lion’s Share” has no majestic roar but a melancholy piano and a pitter-patter rhythm. Such songs as “Albatross” and “Bed of Nails” share a similar fate, with quiet, swirling keyboards and light percussion.
The album’s 10 songs feature intricately crafted and subdued instrumentation, but a lack of bold musical choices means Thorpe hogs the spotlight. And if you’re disinclined to enjoy his vocals, there’s little else to pay attention to.
— Dan Miller, July 15, 2011