Ode to self-discovery

Where does rigour end and rigor mortis begin, asks Arthur Yap in his poem, Still-Life V. It is an apposite line, which may explain the decision of rock band Wild Beasts to call it quits at the top of their game in February last year

In hindsight, there is something admirably stoic in how the Mercury Prize-nominated English foursome announced their expiration date months in advance, giving fans and pundits time to process and for the band to bow out like gentlemen.

All eyes then are on the arrival of Diviner, the solo debut by former frontman Hayden Thorpe. In a recent interview with Dutch multimedia platform 3VOOR12, he describes the group's dissolution: "In truth, it felt like leaving a cult. It's a whole belief system. There was some disentangling to do and this is where this record emerged - this record about divination, ways forward and what to believe in."

The title track (and the first song written for the album) resets Thorpe's musical compass. Whereas the songs for Wild Beasts come on ballsy and bodacious, toying with machismo and turning the house topsy-turvy, Diviner does not showboat.

Instead, it is centred, pivoted on the piano, the instrument he grew up learning as a child. "I'm a keeper of secrets/Pray do tell," he avers. "My ghost had left my skin/Diviner, bring it in."

It is the yin to the yang of his band's last album, Boy King (2016), shedding the ostentatious threads of yore for something more interior.

In solitude, he opens up. He nails the separation blues in the track, In My Name, inspired by Wild Beasts' farewell concerts. Against the soft, insistent piano riff, shadowed by strings, he confesses: "I've unset that voice/I have made my choice."



    Hayden Thorpe


    Rating: 4 Stars

In Love Crimes, he is doing a round of Marie Kondo by getting rid of "muddy stuff". "All love crimes are carried out/When you're scared and you're living doubt/That I'm giving up on us," he frays over gently galloping keys.

"How heavy can love really be?" he asks in Anywhen, a restless cascade of keys washing over him. "Now, when I think of us, I pretty much self-combust."

Even when he burrows into carnality, he does not revel in stereotypical falsetto trills. In Earthy Needs, he purrs in a silky croon, seeking newer textures over stuttering bass and drums: "How does that word feel in your mouth?/Do you want to spit it out?"

Is he engaged in "emotional jiu-jitsu" with a paramour or a dialogue with his former self? As the song segues into a synth-fuelled coda, he delivers wry self-mockery: "How long until I laugh at this?/Until the abyss blows me a kiss."

Afflicted, Thorpe stares at the abyss, making out a "likeness to someone I had dreamt" (Impossible Object) or "one hell of a human knot" (Human Knot).

So, where does the community end and the self begin? Diviner takes listeners on a road to self-discovery.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2019, with the headline 'Ode to self-discovery'. Print Edition | Subscribe