"Don't confuse me for someone who gives a fuck” asserts vocalist Hayden Thorpe on Wanderlust, the opener of album number four. It is a moment that defines just how much Wild Beasts have become their own animal.
Present Tense is an album not simply recorded but meticulously planned and crafted. Rather than simply going into the studio to record songs as they apparently did on their previous albums, here the band started by planning out the songs and the album like a strategy. Pieces were assembled on computers first and they abandoned concerns about pre-defined roles within the band in terms of the instruments they played - anyone could contribute whatever they wanted. It sounds like a dangerous game that cold lead to a cold and clinical album, but the result is anything but.
As the first single from Present Tense much has been made of the baiting of an unnamed British band's attempts to Americanise their sound (it's not label mates the Arctic Monkeys apparently) but to focus on the target of the barbs perhaps misses the point... Wanderlust also has Thorpe delivering the line "It's a feeling that I've come to trust". The point is that this is a band confident in their own path, and the two lines highlighted here attest to that. Self-acceptance is key.
This album is a much more heavily produced one than any of their previous, with co-producers Lexx and Brian Eno protégé Leo Abrahams helping to grant the band more focus and confidence. It is overtly more electronic than anything else they have released and yet it comes without any cost when it comes to the effectiveness of the band themselves. They remain tight, in-sync and limber.
The songs are all just as athletic, lyrically tackling that growing confidence that often comes with masculine maturity, and Thorpe's vocals for the first time not over-playing their hand. In amongst the warmer electronics and restrained playing he feels more at home, less flamboyant. A baritone vocal delivery on Nature Boy add an element of malice whilst that trademark Thorpe falsetto provides a emotional femininity on tracks like the confessional album closer Palace.
And it can't really be overstated - the production work just glitters. An elastic bouncing rhythm on A Dog's Life punctuating the words "So throw the ball up into space...", a line otherwise delivered in near silence. It is a moment delivered seconds prior to a crescendo of synthesizers. The final quarter of Sweet Spot (posted recently here) still makes the hairs on your arms stand up, a series of clean harmonic synth chords stab through the song clinically and beautifully... The kind of moment you wish would never end.
Present Tense is a considerable achievement - it easily represents the best work the band have released and it does so with confidence. This is a band that have figured out what they are doing and appear to know they are good at it.