When it comes to creativity, the Wild Beasts have an embarrassment of riches. The band's full-length debut, Limbo, Panto, is exotic, exciting, fascinating, and forced in equal measures. "Vigil for a Fuddy Duddy" opens the album by spotlighting the most divisive, and definitive, part of the band's music: singer/guitarist Hayden Thorpe's vocals. He careens from a warbling falsetto to a suave croon to a feral growl, sounding like a hybrid of Antony Hegarty, Tiny Tim, and Mika (with shades of Tiger Lillies howler Martyn Jacques and possibly Dame Edna to boot), not just during the course of one song, but sometimes within a single syllable. It's an attention-getting sound, but it often crosses the line between distinctive and difficult, especially since Thorpe's fondness for wordy lyrics such as "don't render me the sorriest parody" and the Seuss-like internal rhymes and alliteration on "Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants" and "Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye" are already extremely stylized. However, Limbo, Panto is more than Thorpe's love-it-or-hate-it lightning rod of a voice. The rest of the Wild Beasts' music is relatively restrained but still far from conventional, fitting around Thorpe's vocals in more subtly unique ways. Relying mostly on a traditional guitar-bass-drums lineup (along with the occasional keyboard), the Wild Beasts evoke cabaret, vaudeville, jazz, disco, and Afro-pop, depending on their whims. "The Old Dog" could be a lost and very warped '70s pop single, while "Please Sir" fuses doo wop rhythms with chamber pop delicacy and "Woebegone Wanderers" flips from a disco strut to a carnivalesque oompah beat. Over the course of the album, the band's experiments teeter between genuinely intriguing music and just trying way too hard. "The Devil's Crayon" is excellent, with percolating guitars and lunging drums that come together in strangely graceful, romantic ways. This song and "His Grinning Skull" -- another standout that makes the lyric "I'll eat this young whelp's heart, I will" seem perfectly conversational -- feature bassist Tom Flemming's throaty vocals. "She Purred While I Grrred" is a highlight that is all Thorpe's, however; he sounds like he's in heat as he purrs and grrrs his way through the song's jungle-like carnality. These moments balance tracks like "The Club of Fathomless Love," where everything that is interesting about the band's music just sounds grating. In its own way, the Wild Beasts' volatile flamboyance is more difficult to embrace than an overtly dissonant experimental band's music, but that's just another way that this group sets itself apart from the rest of the pack -- and there's something very liberating about that, even if it's baffling at times. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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