Review: Wild Beasts, Boy King

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Word association is dope when used properly. In terms of shortcuts, I’m a master, especially if those shortcuts are of the Using-English-to-Remember-Stuff variety. I can’t tell you a single thing about Meatloaf’s musical catalog past the laboriously vivid “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” but I can tell you with certainty that His Name is Robert Paulson. I wasn’t on earth to experience anything first-hand regarding Richard Nixon’s term as president, but He’s Not a Crook, so I feel like I knew the guy personally. Al Davis was doing his best Skeletor impression by the time I was old enough to recant his name in conversation. But “Just Win Baby,” might as well be tattooed on my inner thigh.

Before the 90’s, information was a finite concept, and word association was simply a way to jog one’s memory. There was no machine in one’s pocket capable of instantaneously researching every subject matter known to man, so research—true research—had to be conducted manually. Which meant that becoming a field expert was as easy as cracking open as many books as it took to explain things to other people. But the days of developing opinions based upon a holistic understanding of an idea has come and gone. We now coexist in an era of limitless information. We take in only as quickly as we digest, and knowing something about everything seems to be much more valuable than the other way around. So a lot of times, word association might actually not be word association at all. It might actually be everything a person knows about one specific thing. Which is to say: That person knows nothing, really.

In 2014, UK-based quartet Wild Beasts dropped Present Tense, a beautiful 11-track LP (their fourth) that was at-once chaotic, incendiary and interminably relatable. It was also bookended by “Wanderlust”, and “Palace”, two pre-released tracks that, over time, became synonymous with Wild Beasts themselves. The only problem with this assertion was that “Wanderlust,” and “Palace”, though terrific in their own right, far-from-represented the essence of Present Tense. The nine songs in between were the beating heart of the album—a track-by-track exploration of everything Wild Beasts had worked so hard to perfect over their eight-year history.

This core, however, was overlooked in favor of the two most easily digestible tracks on the LP. “Wanderlust”, and “Palace”, careered forward, while a more widespread understanding of Wild Beasts’ catalog didn’t move an inch.

I say all of this on behalf of good news: Wild Beasts seem to have come to terms with this flightier demographic. On their exciting fifth LP Boy King, they seem intent on veering away from their previous mistakes.

That’s not to say album frontrunners “Get My Bang”, “Big Cat”, and “Celestial Creatures” are the only reasons why Boy King is a success. As has been the case on literally every other Wild Beasts album, much of the magic on Boy King resides within those buried cuts—most notably, “Tough Guy”, “He the Colossus”, and lo-fi slow builder “Eat Your Heart Out Adonis”. These songs all perfectly showcase the trademark smooth industrialism Wild Beasts have come to exemplify, and vocalist Hayden Thorpe’s signature operatic falsetto has never sounded tighter or more developed.

But we’d be foolish to assume any one of these three songs would see the light of day from a more auxiliary perspective. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance that artists preempt full records with singles that are both palatable and fully representative of every other track on them. And for as catchy as “Get My Bang”, and “Big Cat”, may be, no track captures the life and the spirit of Wild Beasts quite like, “Celestial Creatures”, Boy King’s triumphant third single. “Creatures”, is the sonic equivalent of a novel you can’t put down. The entire track builds toward a moment that never pays off until you realize the moment was the whole song. It’s soulful in a way we’ve never heard Thorpe sound before, and its staccato melodic delivery pays homage to intricacies, which is notably impressive given how focused the quartet has been on the bigger picture their music means to imply in years past. It’s a tremendous track that’ll likely make many critics’ top ten lists near year’s end.

Wholly, Boy King is a subtle win. Where some tracks fall short (“Alpha Female”, “2BU”), stronger songs pick up the slack, imbuing King with a kinetic personality that prevails throughout the album’s entirety. Critically, this may not move many needles. But to casual listeners, Wild Beasts are on a mission to refine their own definition. This is must-witness music at its very finest. B