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Hayden Thorpe - Diviner Music Album Reviews

The former Wild Beasts singer embarks on a new direction on his soul-searching solo debut, stripping back his songwriting to a reverent hush.
The British singer-songwriter Hayden Thorpe released “Diviner” in late February 2019, just a year after the final performance of his band Wild Beasts. From its stark opening chords and breathy first line—“I’m a keeper of secrets, pray do tell”—the song sounded markedly personal. With little more than his stately countertenor and humble piano, Thorpe harnessed the energy of quiet solitude and proceeded to pitch that emotion skyward until the music felt bathed in a dim light. After more than a decade with Wild Beasts, “Diviner” pointed to a different direction for Thorpe.

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The Ballet - Matchy Matchy Music Album Reviews

With their first album in six years, New York City indie-pop duo the Ballet question the complexities of modern queer life but offer no easy answers.

Matchy Matchy opens up like a stranger on a gay hookup app: “Wanna play?” Identities are floated, compliments proffered. “Do you want to call me son or Daddy?/You’re so pretty, my femme, my fatty.” The electro-pop pulse twinkles with promise; it might bloom like a Troye Sivan anthem. But the curious lurker won’t be pinned down. “I’m just checking things out,” he sighs. And the song wanders off.

This amiable embrace of ambivalence distinguishes Greg Goldberg and Craig Willse’s output as the Ballet from the work of their funny musical uncles, like the Magnetic Fields’ implacably ironic Stephin Merritt, the Hidden Cameras’ riot auteur Joel Gibb, even fairy godfathers Pet Shop Boys. It might be the healthiest way to cope with a community that, 50 years after the Stonewall riots, encompasses both pink-cape-wearing Tony winner Billy Porter and Trump-approved Republican ambassador Richard Grenell, public intellectuals like Alaska Thunderfuck and concern trolls like Andrew Sullivan. At this point, some gay men want to diversify society just enough to squeeze in but otherwise resemble the bigots who hate them. It’s an ugly look, but then, some people like ugly. Don’t let it spoil your day.

Matchy Matchy dons its titular wink at over-coordination with a limited sonic palette of bubbling synths, carefully strummed guitar, and featherlight drums. Lyrically, it’s much more promiscuous, depicting the diversity of 2019 gays if not always embracing them. One might successfully navigate his “First Time in a Gay Bar,” but the smalltown boy in “Jersey” stalls for almost five minutes, barely gathering the courage to finally say “I just wanted to hide away with you and never come back,” as a Motorik rhythm never quite shifts into gear. “Messing Around” sounds like an update of Belle and Sebastian’s “Seeing Other People” for the masc-for-masc crowd, in which the guys are old enough to fuck but not mature enough to admit they’d like more. “It’s just a couple hours/Every week or two,” Goldberg sings. “We’re just a couple of guys/But you’ve got that look in your eyes.” It sours, though, the way these things do, into a slight anthem for a city where men leave each other for strangers on a plane, or spend boozy nights deconstructing monogamy under awnings in the rain, or set up joint hookup accounts they don’t always check together.

But then men come and go. The narrator of “Your Boyfriend” negs a potential partner before giving away the game: “I don’t want to watch your student film/I don’t want to take your student drugs…/I just want to be your boyfriend.” And yet, the music is so lovely, all dewy guitars and dripping synth bells, that it makes you understand the appeal of intertwining with someone who doesn’t necessarily respect you. “Love Letter,” with its deliberate worldess space between verse and chorus, is a perfect replication of the exquisite torture of just watching and wishing and hoping for someone to go ahead and finally break your heart.

More chaotic is the plight of the narrator of the album’s first single, “But I’m a Top”: “Outside I look like a girl/Inside I feel like a girl/Why?/Doesn’t anyone?/Believe me?/When I say/I’m a top?” Essentialist compounds of identity—What does a girl look and feel like? Can’t a girl be a top? Are such position-based personas even, like, a thing?—steep until a very queer tea is brewed. At its, well, bottom, “But I’m a Top” is a lovely declaration of self-determination.

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Other meandering inquisitions lead to wilder places. The lonely lover in “I’ve Been Wondering” starts off curious, in a casual finger-snapping kind of way, about where their beloved goes after dark, before the track’s gentle exotica perks up into a Northern Soul floor-filler and the destination is revealed: “There’s a little park/At the edge of town/It’s a petting zoo/When the sun goes down.” Cruising has never sounded merrier, and whether the protagonist wants their lover home or longs to join in the fun remains a secret.

In a weird synergy, the album arrives as a current leading contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president is a white cis Christian veteran who happens to be gay and recently covered Time magazine with his husband in a remarkable pose of aspirational assimilation. With their unthreatening visages and similar brown belts, Pete and Chasten Buttigieg appear to be the ne plus ultra of matchy-matchy-ness; they seem like the kind of guys who’d only ever fall for themselves, even as they valiantly fight to serve their country. The Ballet should play Pete’s inauguration, but they’re probably too... much. The state of the nation is strange.


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