When I compare Present Tense to Wild Beasts’ older albums, it’s hard for me to believe that they’re from the same band, although that is not at all a bad thing. There was a level of intense, carnivorous drama and funk brought by their earlier albums Limbo, Panto and Two Dancers, and it has been turned down considerably and replaced with equal bursts of emotion and passion. The main reason for this stark contrast is the inevitable inclusion of electronic elements such as synthesizers as well as a newer, more subtle mindset, and it has successfully made Wild Beasts’ music become more emotional and dense as a result. There are no longer the primal, aggressive urges that explode with meticulous instrumentals, but instead a more subtle, yet still sensual approach that has proved to be remarkably effective in my book. Hayden Thorpe’s voice has grown more mature and controlled over the years as well, and the intense passion has still remained as a dynamic force to be reckoned with.
It’s clear in the first track “Wanderlust” that this new identity has been embraced, and everything from the deep, dark bass line to the fantastical synth harmonies lets listeners know firsthand. “Nature Boy” brings out the equally gorgeous baritone voice of bassist Tom Fleming and touches on some of the primal urges that were mentioned in all the other albums before, although less in a purely carnal way and more romantically. It’s a nice transition into single “Mecca,” which is honestly one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. The way the synth swells with Thorpe’s trademark falsetto voice is absolutely gorgeous, and the lyrics are so wonderfully poetic. It touches on the journey for love and acceptance, and the desire to know these feelings in a way that is everlasting. With further listen it’s clear that this theme of love and desire is constant in most of Present Tense’s other tracks, such as stunner “Sweet Spot” and ballad “Pregnant Pause.” However, the apex of the album is the track “A Simple Beautiful Truth,” where a repeated synth melody propels the continuation of this common theme. There’s simplicity and realization embedded throughout, and it’s fluidity within the alternating vocals is impeccable. “Past Perfect” and “New Life” are the most vulnerable, and show a side of Thorpe and Fleming’s voices that hadn’t been heard before. They touch on evolution and the embracing of a new way of life, respectively, and do so in a way that allows for concurrent thought. Closer “Palace” is one of Wild Beasts’ finest works, and is the most perfect closing for this album. Thorpe and Fleming combine voices one more time and it’s absolutely breathtaking, and the minimal piano sets the tone as a nostalgic masterpiece. It sounds like a bittersweet goodbye, however, considering Thorpe delicately sings about a tiring effort to fruitlessly strive for that ultimate desire and ending with his realization that “baby, there’s have alls and there are have nots / I’m happy with what I got.”
Wild Beasts have come a long way, and I honestly like their darker, foreboding mindset more than their blatantly direct attitude they started out with. I like simplicity and subtlety in music just as much as I enjoy personal, obvious narratives, and in regards to the development of this band, I would say that they as a whole have gotten better at conveying the feelings they write these glorious songs about.
Present Tense goes on a journey both in the beautifully written lyrics to the fervid, vulnerable instrumentals, and each track is like a look inside what the human mind thinks about on a daily basis – love, desire, fear, the yearning for satisfaction – and what we get at the end is the acceptance for what we already have and cherish, leaving the listener with a contentment that is truly simple and beautiful.