It starts with a simple nagging pulse, some sparse piano and Hayden Thorpe’s opulent falsetto – only here he’s never sounded so haunted, threading through the skeletal arrangement and ominous spaces of ‘The Lion’s Share’ as it almost builds into a crescendo but then, brilliantly, doesn’t quite, maintaining instead its eerie tension until it evaporates. “It’s a terrible scare,” he sings, “but that’s why the dark is there: so you don’t have to see what you can’t bear.” For a brief delirious moment there’s a tiny icy blade right through your heart, and it’s clear that whatever our expectations of Wild Beasts, a band who’ve always gone their own strange, sweet way, they are about to be both confounded and exceeded.
‘Smother’ is the third album by Wild Beasts, four young men from Kendal who, despite journeying towards the centre of things, on a trajectory that took them from Kendal to Leeds to London, still make music that retains the outsiderdom and intimacy a childhood spent in the Lake District informed. Like its predecessors ‘Limbo, Panto’ and the Mercury-nominated, much-loved ‘Two Dancers’, it is a genuinely brave, beautiful record that stands outside the vicissitudes of fashion, and sounds like nothing so much as itself. If ‘Two Dancers’ was a night on the tiles, dizzy and giddy and pulsing with hedonism, then ‘Smother’ is pillowtalk. Intimate and sensual, it has the courage and confidence to talk softly, knowing that once it has the listener, it has them forever.