Though Wild Beasts started streamlining their sound on 2011's brilliant Smother, they've rarely used minimalism as purposefully -- and symbolically -- as they do on Boy King. On their fifth album, Wild Beasts lay their music and themes bare, giving them an urgency that feels like an equal and opposite reaction to Present Tense's contemplative sensuality. With the help of producer John Congleton, they craft taut, synth-driven grooves informed by hip-hop and R&B. To their credit, they don't sound like the scores of other indie acts borrowing these sounds, although there is a resemblance to Muse's 2012 hit "Madness" on "Get My Bang" and the power plays of the sly opening track "Big Cat." The only traces of the band's former exuberance can be found on Boy King's guitar solos, which help break the music's tension in welcome and sometimes surprising ways: The doomy riff that appears out of nowhere on "He the Colossus" could have escaped from a Sunn O))) song. While the album continues Wild Beasts' musical evolution, they remain true to the motifs of sex and power they've explored since their early days. They can still make almost any phrase into a double entendre: When Hayden Thorpe sings "I'll be right behind you" on "Alpha Female," it reaffirms the layers that have always been in the band's music. However, sometimes their words are more obvious than before, perhaps to fit the simpler music. On "Tough Guy," the band peels off masculinity's mask, but it's hard not to feel like they might have done so with more depth previously. Boy King's hard-hitting themes border on repetitive, but Wild Beasts add some twists to their template on the album's second half. Tom Fleming contributes two of the brightest highlights: On "Ponytail," when he croons "I want you to trust me" over oily synths, it's clear that's the last thing anyone should do; "2BU" is yearning and threatening at the same time, touching on the spine-tingling beauty and complexity of Wild Beasts at their best. Similarly, "Celestial Creatures" lives up to its name as it captures some of the divine and returns the sensuality to the band's music, while the lone ballad "Dreamliner" is a reminder of their vulnerability. Boy King may be some of Wild Beast's most consistent and accessible music, but at a price: It comes dangerously close to predictable, something the band never would have been called before.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares