A certain romance has always been at the heart of Hayden Thorpe’s singing, whether as a solo artist or as the principal vocalist with Wild Beasts, the beloved Kendal outfit who disbanded in 2017. Since then Thorpe’s progress has been surefooted, releasing debut solo album Diviner in 2019, and as he moves on to album number two, Moondust For My Diamond, that romantic heart is still key to his approach – though there are signs of an ever-increasing maturity in his songwriting.
Thorpe writes with great assurance, and has the confidence to use a ‘less is more’ approach to powerful effect. Every musical inflection is carefully applied but there remains an instinctive feel. Meanwhile the dressing applied to Thorpe’s voice consists of lucid electronics, keyboards that pan out to offer wide sonic vistas, synthetic drums and some striking acoustic cameos. When, for example, did you last hear an oboe used with the sensitivity it brings to Golden Ratio?
Then, of course, there is the voice itself. Thorpe continues to sing beautifully but if anything his slightly reserved approach heightens the emotional impact. “It’s only real if I make it,” goes the repeated mantra of Material World, a strong opener. No Such Thing, on the other hand, asserts that there is “no such thing as true darkness, within this skin I am boundless”. Heady stuff indeed.
Meanwhile his innermost thoughts give way to an urgent need to move. “I’ll be dancing, trying to catch your eye,” he sings on the gorgeous Golden Ratio. Rational Heartache puts his money where his mouth is, strutting into the middle of the floor with an effortless poise. He draws the focus of even the casual onlooker, the voice now with the profile of a ballet dancer.
The beats reveal more, too – the bumps in the road of Suspended Animation especially notable, where Thorpe sings “I’ll burn the book for you”. Hotel November Tango pulses with life, but also evokes the balm of the early evening in its textures. Supersensual has a fuzzy, soft focus feel while Parallel Kingdom retreats to barely more than a murmur, but the storytelling is so vivid Thorpe could be in the room with you. All these elements are testament to the excellent production from Richard Formby and Nathan Jenkins (aka Bullion).
Comparisons with Talk Talk are once again valid in Thorpe’s work, but never cross the line into imitation. They apply most directly to the poise and pace of his musical thinking, and the space created by the distance between the parts speaks as strongly as the notes themselves. Perhaps because of this, Moondust For My Diamond works best in one, uninterrupted listen, and when repeated two or three times, it becomes possible to tease out the many treasures this album brings to the table. The production offers glimpses of Thorpe’s Kendal roots, placed out in the great wide open, but the intimacy of his vocal allows him to paint vivid pictures and stir emotion from the soul.
As its name implies, Moondust For My Diamond makes a great late night listen – and at the same time offers plenty of evidence that Hayden Thorpe is growing apace. He has without doubt made one of the albums of the year.