While it's not exactly accurate to say Wild Beasts have gotten tamer with each release, it's hard to deny that their music has become far more orderly and considered since the Limbo, Panto days. The band adopted a sleeker approach on the brilliant Smother, so the lean synth pop that provides Present Tense's backbone feels like a logical, if not exactly expected, progression. With the help of producers Lexx and Leo Abrahams -- who have worked with Björk and Brian Eno, respectively -- the group explores territory that is quieter but no less compelling than where they've been before. Present Tense's implosive sound reflects the fact that comedowns and consequences cast a longer shadow over Wild Beasts' songs than they used to. On "Mecca," Hayden Thorpe, Tom Flemming, and company spend more time yearning for pleasure than experiencing it. Even on more sensual songs like "Wanderlust" (which is rhymed with "voluptuous"), Thorpe sounds more jaded than brazen when he sings "Don't confuse me with someone who gives a fuck," providing the album's manifesto. As always, Wild Beasts have one of the finest indie songwriting duos in Thorpe and Flemming, whose styles still complement each other perfectly. Thorpe offers a more poetic interpretation of Present Tense's fascinations with loss and lust, particularly on the gorgeous "Sweet Spot," where he muses on the fleeting perfection "between two hands held in prayer" over sparkling guitars. Meanwhile, Flemming plays the heavy, with songs ranging from the somber "New Life" to the deeply unsettling "A Dog's Life," where lyrics like "Paint its lipstick bright red/Wipe the drool up gently" suggest misdeeds on a Silence of the Lambs level. His strongest moments are somewhere in between: "Nature Boy," which lumbers full of ominous masculinity, is equally cruel and alluring, while "Daughters" gives equal time to threatening femininity. Present Tense isn't as flawless as Smother; it's slightly top-loaded, and occasionally the spare instrumentation borders on monotonous. Still, it's a compelling album that shows Wild Beasts can build on their breakthrough in satisfying and challenging ways.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares