Schubas; Thu 18
Being avant-garde is easy, as long as one’s willing to overlook pleasantries like tonality, melody and not wailing as if being poked by a soldering iron. Really, what makes an art-pop band arty is often its weakest link. Take, for example, Wild Beasts, a spiky British indie band notable for its brazen frontman.
Hayden Thorpe is a countertenor, which is a fancy musical way of saying it sounds as if he’s been—well, being, in this case—castrated. On the quartet’s debut, 2008’s Limbo, Panto, Thorpe fills his jarring arias with growls, gargles, yodels and whimpers. The rest of the boys plink and plunk away on mutated Smiths knockoffs.
But a funny thing happened on last year’s quick follow-up, Two Dancers: Wild Beasts became breathtaking. Thorny guitars have been snipped away, and Thorpe’s fiery and erratic vocal lines have cooled into more palatable treats. The falsetto’s still going to be a deal-breaker for many, but this is a group of intellectuals that named itself after a French art movement from the 1900s, after all.
“This is a booty call / My boot up your arse hole,” the Cumbria native warbles on “Fun Powder Plot,” making a cranky socialist screed so effeminate and operatic it comes off like a tease. Highlights like “All the King’s Men” and “This Is Our Lot” drape shimmering keyboards and ticktocking guitars over patient grooves, built from tom-toms, bongos and snapping snare, imagining the sound of Antony replacing Siouxsie in the Banshees. Most impressively, this sophomore growth spurt revives the spirit of early-’80s British postpunk while avoiding the trappings of straight homage. A leftist band can rant and rage all it wants, but beauty is often the best coating for a political pill.