Hopefully by now you’ve heard Smother, the third album from Wild Beasts. As with all their records, it feels like it comes out of nowhere. And as always, I have trouble finding reference points to give people when recommending them (Antony? Talking Heads?). That’s why I asked the band to talk about some of the albums and songs they listened to while writing and recording it, as well as some of the bands that inspired them when they started. Bassist/vocalist Tom Fleming created this list on behalf of Wild Beasts, though it includes some “personal indulgences” that he wanted to talk about. “We just share records on tour. We trade tapes, as it were. And we don’t really have set roles anymore. We’re all interested in production and how things are put together. We all play more than one instrument now-a-days,” he says. “So it’s more about, how can we best use what we’ve got.” Though his list of picks is pretty diverse, they make sense: they’re songs with lots of complex rhythms, or with a muted subtlety that nevertheless burrow into you lyrically — “turning the knife” is the phrase he uses to describe the lyrics on Smother.
The list also reflects how he discovered a lot of his favorites. Fleming was 20 years old and the last person to join the band when Wild Beasts asked him to play bass. Soon after the band moved from Kendal, a city with under 50,000 residents, to Leeds, a college town with greater access to live and recorded music. “I remember buying in quick succession Joanna Newsom’s first record, Madvilliany by Madvillian and John Fahey and just being like ‘Whoah, okay.’ And just educating myself.” The band postponed making the bigger move to London, which helped them keep their uniqueness. I asked Fleming about that period around 2005 when London exploded with young, post-punk dance bands. “It sucked big balls. It was horrible,” he says. “That kind of music… I really felt no connection to whatsoever.” The rest of his band would agree, though they disagree on other bands (note, by the way, how few of his picks are British). Fleming says he’s banned from playing some of his favorites — Burzum, Xasthur, Jandek — when they’re on tour. Another personal, still-unbanned favorite? Mariah Carey’s Daydream. Check out some of he and the band’s favorite musical inspirations below.
Bruce Springsteen – “Prove it all Night”
A near-perfect example of The Boss’s commitment to doing a lot with a little (a vintage Clarence sax solo) and a very romantic song, I think. When he’s good he is the master.
Junior Boys – “Three Words”
Slow, slow jam, an incredibly sexy song: “…don’t you want to hold me, you can’t pretend that you’re not sentimental too.” And dubstep before dubstep was a thing. On Two Dancers, and even more on this record, they’re a touchstone for us.
The Blue Nile – “From a Late Night Train”
That album, Hats is a really big influence on Smother, actually. That romance and the simplicity of construction. It sounds a little bit slick today. The last verse in this reduces me to rubble. Real raw sadness hiding behind the gloss. It never really tells you what it’s about, it’s very sparse, all synths. It’s very very beautiful, and what isn’t said and what isn’t done on that song is very important, very important to [Smother] I think.
Ricardo Villalobos – “Dexter”
Great on the dancefloor, but even better rattling round your head in your darkened room. Beautifully, devastatingly weighted.
Patti Smith – “Easter”
Patti as Madonna, as Christ, as Iscariot. The spoken word section is so, so exciting.
Tyler, the Creator – “French”
It’s bratty, isn’t it? It’s punk. I think of it as punk music as much as it is hip hop. My first experience with it is I saw the video, and I was like, “What the fuck is this?” It was the first indication, really, that I’m getting old. I loved it, but it would never have occurred to me. It’s so anti-musical in a lot of ways, the slowed down voices and the rhyming: “In the three bear house eating their mothafucking porridge / I tell her it’s my house, give her a tour / In my basement, and keep that bitch locked up in my storage.” What?! This feels like a new generation. My first impulse when it finishes is to play it again.
Wilco – “Less Than You Think”
This was big on me, I think it’s astonishing. Big shout out to Jim O’Rourke for this one too.
The Beach Boys – “Don’t Talk, Put Your Head On My Shoulder”
We will spend our lives trying to write a song this good.
Lil Wayne – “A Milli”
The thing is, a lot of this album is just crap. I don’t think it’s a wall-to-wall classic by any means. But this track is incredible. I love — again — that there’s no musical information at all. There are no musical elements. No tune. No chords. No anything. Just rhythm. And it’s so minimal. Chris, our drummer, doesn’t think in 1-2-3-4, he thinks in triplets. He thinks in threes and sixes. And those kinds of rhythms are really interesting. That’s something we’ve learned. It wasn’t a hit in the UK, the Bangladesh beat is off-the-scale exciting, and Wayne’s delivery is loads of fun. He also did “Diva,” by Beyoncé, which is also incredible.
Joanna Newsom – “Go Long”
Always an influence, and always a step ahead. She just keeps turning and turning the screw on this one.
Jake Thackray – “Country Bus”
He was an English singer songwriter, kind of a satirical, comedy singer songwriter, really. He was actually an English teacher in Leeds, where we came from. A Francophile, and spectacular fingerpicker. He has that song, “The Bull” which I kind of nick a line from on Two Dancers. “Country Bus” is hilarious.
Oneohtrix Point Never – “Zones Without people”
A contemporary and hero. Very few can soak these synths in such heavy emotion.
Antony and the Johnsons – “Another World”
So very simple. A heavy song, and a beautiful song, though listening to him reciting the alphabet would be a beautiful experience.
Animal Collective – “April and the Phantom”
Not wishing to be the sort of person who says “I was into these before…”, but this is still my favorite track of theirs, it’s incredible.
Angels of Light – “All Souls Rising”
No one ever talks about Michael Gira’s works as masterpieces, but every single album is an event. He’s just brilliant. He’s way, way better than he’s ever given credit for. He’s credited as a mad man or a shouter in Swans, nobody ever talks about the Angels of Light records, all of which are incredible. And his work in Swans, and the subtlety of Swans, the range of those records is just amazing I think.
Stream all of Smother: