Hayden Thorpe
Photo: Jack Johnstone / Courtesy of Domino

Hayden Thorpe Melds Electropop, R&B, and Ambient on ‘Moondust for My Diamond’

Former Wild Beasts frontman Hayden Thorpe combines electropop with R&B-influenced vocals and ambient into an effective, coherent sound on his second solo LP.

Moondust for My Diamond
Hayden Thorpe
Domino
15 October 2021

Moondust for My Diamond is Hayden Thorpe‘s second solo album since the breakup of his indie-rock band Wild Beasts in 2017. It’s a collection of low-key, mostly electronic-based pop songs that emphasize Thorpe’s breathy, often falsetto vocals. Despite being a pop album, high energy and big hooks are not the order of the day here. However, Thorpe’s penchant for intriguing arrangements and smooth singing is rewarding in its own right.

The singles Thorpe released in advance of the album give a solid overview of Moondust’s sound. “The Universe Is Always Right” opens with plinky electronic percussion, a gentle synth melody, and syncopated acoustic guitar low in the mix. The pre-chorus, “The genie won’t go back / Now that it’s awake”, is the song’s most memorable part, although the actual chorus is solid as well. But Thorpe doesn’t bring the track to any sort of climax, content to let the overall groove just carry it along.

“Parallel Kingdom” is a more evocative song, with an insistent electronic snare beat and a spare but energetic low-end synth bassline. The lyrics are about gateways and parallel worlds, and Thorpe goes from falsetto croon to spoken word to quiet singing. A high register piano provides a countermelody to the vocals, and the track sets a mood similar to the music of mid-period Björk. “Metafeeling” gets a lot of mileage from saxophones that double (and occasionally add harmony to) Thorpe’s vocals at critical moments. The saxes and the song’s pop-R&B arrangement give the track a very ’80s pop vibe like it could be nestled in between Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to do With It?” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” without listeners noticing.

“Golden Ratio”, released just a few days before the album proper, might be the only misstep among the singles. Thorpe muses about the past, the future, nostalgia, and the titular ratio. Musically, it’s one of the times where just allowing the vibe to carry the track doesn’t quite work. The opening half of the song has only the faintest kick drum sound as a beat, and it didn’t quite grab me melodically, despite the addition of vocal harmonies and another saxophone appearance. Once the synth snare kicks in, the song gets some forward momentum, but not enough is happening musically to hold my attention.

The rest of Moondust for My Diamond uses many of the same ideas, changing the balance slightly on different tracks. The opener “Material World” is very synth-heavy, using a pulsing tone and very artificial drums as its bed. Occasional stabs of heavily processed electric guitar (or possibly that’s a synth, too) show up here and there, supporting Thorpe’s vocals, which shift between falsetto and a spoken whisper. “Supersensual”, on the other hand, features a lot of guitars, both acoustic and electric, and Thorpe primarily lays off the synths to let the guitar and his voice carry the song.

Thorpe doesn’t let his songs get fast, but some tracks noticeably have more momentum. “No Such Thing” is pretty slow, tempo-wise, but there’s a subdivided synth bassline that gives the illusion that it’s really moving. It’s also a track that’s noticeably in a minor key and has an oppressive, dark feeling, despite its vocal refrain, “There’s no such thing as true darkness.” “No Such Thing” nicely illustrates how to create that momentum without actually speeding up. “Hotel November Tango” is similarly only going midtempo, but it uses a bass pulse and an opposing higher synth sound to give it the feeling of speed. It also helps that there is a faint but insistent percussion click moving on the 16th notes.

There is one instrumental on the record, and it’s “Spherical Time II”. The original “Spherical Time” appears on Thorpe’s first solo album, Diviner, and it’s also an instrumental. Both songs move slowly and feature washes of synth chords. The synth tones are also similar, but melodically the two don’t seem connected. It’s kind of fascinating to hear a track that Thorpe liked enough to include but didn’t attempt to write a vocal part to put on top of the music.

There are three exciting tracks near the end of the album. “Rational Heartache” is the most energetic song here, with an active beat and buzzing synths that make for a genuinely danceable track. “Suspended Animation” has a spare but funky beat and sets a harder groove than the rest of the record. “Runaway World” closes things out with a ballad that sounds romantic and loving. Intentionally or not, Thorpe undermines the sentiment by having a refrain where he repeats “L-M-F-A-O”. It’s challenging to take the song seriously with the internet slang from the mid-2000s.

Moondust for My Diamond is a 45-minute long record that feels like it lasts an hour. That would normally be a detriment for me, but in this case, it’s not. Thorpe’s commitment to relaxed vibes allows the listener to relax as well. None of these songs even approach the five-minute mark, which keeps the tracks from getting repetitive. It’s a record that combines electronic pop with R&B-influenced vocals and ambient music into an effective, coherent sound, and it’s well worth your time.

RATING 7 / 10
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