Monday, 23 May 2011

hark the damesel, for she swooneth

I'm in the honeymoon phase with the new Wild Beasts album, that exquisite, slightly giddy period of feeling so consumed by a piece of music that I listen to it three or four times a day (despite everything else that clamours to be heard: just now that means the Seasick Steve album I'm reviewing; the Lia Ices album I'm befriending; the new Okkervil River; most particularly White Denim's D, which is so literally riveting that I had to lock it away after two listens, simply to be able to get on with my life). Even when Smother isn't playing, I feel the throb of its rhythms in my pulse, the seep of its melodies in my veins. On the morning I started writing this, I was snapped out of a dream by my daughter, and as I stumbled jangling into the day I realised that the dream's narrative and colours and torrid emotions all drew from the soundtrack still echoing in my head: End Come Too Soon.

Smother is an almost shockingly sensual album, its gossamer caresses insinuating their way from earlobe to collarbone, the crook of the arm, the small of the back. But it's a sensuality so searing, and so melancholy, that each time I listen I feel more bereft, skin prickling with an awareness of solitude.

So much of modern pop flaunts a brazen sexuality: Smother is clandestine. Some of what I wrote about Limbo, Panto on its release stands true for me now: there is a baroque wantonness to it, that makes me think of bodies heaving beneath the lacing of corsets, eyes flickering behind elaborate masques. But there is more subtlety here, a quality shadowy and private. Something of the geisha houses described in Junichiro Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows, in which women painted their lips green and teeth black, the more perfectly to be immersed in the dark. Something of Cavafy's erotic visions, “when night comes with its own counsel”. Not for timid bodies, the lust of this heat.

Much as I loved Limbo, Panto, Smother is the album I've been waiting for Wild Beasts to make: the album in which they're in control of what they do, and not vice versa. Limbo, Panto is an obstreperous child: growling like a beast because it can, flaunting and theatrical, relishing its difference, the unleashing of strangeness. That exultant opening howl of Vigil for a Fuddy Duddy haunts me still. Such is the rawness and carnality that mesmerises the heroine in Angela Carter's story The Tiger's Bride.

And then there's Tom Fleming. I feel almost guilty admitting that most of my favourite Wild Beasts songs are those in which his voice is prominent.

But that isn't to say that the two voices are in opposition for me (as they are, say, to Alexis P, at least in his review of Two Dancers). One of the great fascinations of Wild Beasts as they've grown across the three albums is the increasingly fluid way that those apparently opposed voices are woven together, so that now, in Smother, one merges into the other, limbs entangling, hearts dissolving.

Despite the corporeal theatricality of Wild Beasts, I find it hard to think of the band as actual people. I avoid seeing photos of them, and when I do I feel faintly horrified by the sight of plaid shirts, polo-necks and oh, the indignity, beards and moustaches. (One of the Logan brothers summed it up for me, too, when he said: No beards.)

This is the one thing that consoles me for the fact that I'm yet to see them play live. All sorts of mishaps have prevented me: pregnancy, work, forgetfulness. I was in Cyprus when they played at Wilton's Music Hall recently, and cried with frustrated disappointment when those shows were announced, mere days after I'd booked the flights. And so I wait patiently for my relationship with them to be consummated. My eyes will be closed when it is.