Despite bearing all the hallmarks of a classic break-up album - the pained, fragile vocal delivery, the sparse arrangements, the directness of the lyrics - Hayden Thorpe's Diviner is not, in fact, the product of a clichéd boy-meets-girl > boy-gets-heart-broken > boy-sings-of-his-heartbreak kind of narrative. It’s more of a boy-meets-three-other-boys > boys-spend-17-years-together-in-a-band > band-breaks-up-leaving-boy-alone story. That old chestnut.

Thorpe himself has described the album as a document of breaking up with a past self, with an old idea of his identity. Every artist going solo, after being part of a collective unit, finds themselves at an uncertain fork in the road. One path represents the safe option of delivering near-faithful recreations of their former band’s glories; the other comprises a clean break from the past. Each comes with its pitfalls. The former can result in lesser facsimiles, the latter in “experimental” or “deeply personal” works that leave the artist woefully exposed.

Thorpe’s vocals are so unmistakable that any song featuring them becomes instantly Wild Beasts-ian. However, Diviner is decidedly not a mere continuation of Thorpe’s former band’s trajectory. In fact, it feels like a corrective to Boy King’s mostly botched, ironic macho posturing. Where that album was all neon-lit, future maximalism, blown-out synths and farting bass, Diviner is like a dusty half-memory of Smother, draped over a skeleton of sparse piano-bass-and-vocal arrangements, and adorned tastefully with washes of ambient electronics and barely-there beats.

Diviner doesn’t represent a radical departure or a grand experiment, but there are enough flourishes to distinguish it from his previous work and he has an ability to find hooks in the unlikeliest of places that brings to mind the recently departed Mark Hollis and his band, Talk Talk (who Thorpe has oft-cited as a major influence). And yet, any longtime Wild Beasts fan is going to feel right at home as soon as Thorpe sings, “I’m a keeper of secrets/Pray do tell” over the graceful piano figure of the opening title track. Those trilling high notes at the end of each measure provide the hook on a song that all but takes you by the hand whilst Thorpe asks, in honeyed tones, to be shown where to go.

The guiding hand is, to a large extent, the tasteful yet impactful production by longtime friend and collaborator (and, tellingly, Brian Eno and Jon Hopkins associate), Leo Abrahams. The mix is all about creating room for that voice, giving it ample space to swell but also to exist in a whisper. It brings to mind Antony and The Johnsons' I Am A Bird Now, albeit with future-facing synth accompaniments instead of an aesthetic throwback to Lou Reed’s New York of the 1970s. Those synths, ranging from ambient hums to skyscraping Blade Runner drones and whines, add alien textures that unmoor Thorpe from quotidian reality. His is a heightened, poetic plane of being. Emotions are strongly felt, philosophical quandaries are pondered. This can lead to both moments of transcendent beauty as well as awkwardly (yet endearingly) phrased sentiments, as when he sings of "emotional jiu jitsu."

There’s a laser focus to the aesthetic on Diviner, that can be interpreted either as cohesiveness or as a suffocating lack of variety; where you land on this continuum is entirely down to your patience for this kind of stuff. Personally, Thorpe could yodel the phone book to a two-bar piano loop and I’d probably lap it up. Most of the album’s runtime is devoted to ballads that move at a pace that’s a trifle faster than glacial. When the beats per minute do rise, however slightly, on ‘Love Crimes,’ it represents the album’s catchiest moment, and the one that is most reminiscent of Thorpe’s former band.

Across the album, Thorpe circles around themes of time, of autonomy and control, of endings and new beginnings. On the piano-ballad-meets-plastic-funk of ‘Straight Lines,’ Thorpe asks how he’s supposed to live when everything ends and time only moves irrevocably forwards. The glittering 80s chorus of ‘Stop Motion’ frames a desire to exert control over time, to press pause and “keep it all together.” The high notes Thorpe hits during the final repetition of the song’s central refrain are guaranteed to raise goosebumps in anyone in possession of a functioning central nervous system. ‘In My Name,’ arguably one of the least arresting tracks on here, despite the undeniable beauty of its constituent parts, wrestles again with questions of control, Thorpe imploring that no crusades be carried out in his name.

The album comes to a head on ‘Anywhen,’ its darkest-sounding excursion, underpinned by subterranean bass drones, and cut through with strings that sound like glass shattering in slow motion. Concerned again with time and identity, Thorpe becomes a stranger to himself, sees premonitions become real life, marvels at the fact that, once upon a time, we knew nothing about the people closest to us. The instrumental swells like the most dramatic moments on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, as Thorpe allows his voice to reach breaking point, to shiver-inducing effect. The album’s closing track, ‘Impossible Object,’ sees Thorpe attest that he knew the object of his devotion before he met them. It would appear that, by album’s end, time is folding in on itself, past, present and future reflecting each other like the hall of mirrors mentioned in the opening track.

Even the context behind the penultimate track, a celestial, ambient instrumental called ‘Spherical Time,’ is steeped in questions of the past’s persistent influence on the present. Its composition dates back to when Thorpe was sixteen years old and is reminiscent of Sigur Rós, if you shot the Icelandic band into space and watched Jonsí and his bowed guitar stretch and warp in the photon capture zone of a black hole’s event horizon. Thorpe apparently watched a lot of Brian Cox documentaries on astronomy during the creation of Diviner, and it shows.

All this high-minded philosophising and wrestling with questions of time may make you worry that Thorpe has gone po-facedly cerebral and esoteric, like some musical equivalent of Chris Nolan's Interstellar, thus leaving behind the sensual, lustful earthiness that characterised a lot of his most memorable work with Wild Beasts. While you won’t find boots up arseholes, no purring or gurring, nor wantingly wet mouths on Diviner, Thorpe does devote a song to earthly needs, a summary statement for Wild Beasts’ chief concerns. It opens with a classic Thorpe-ian couplet, that feels like a wet tongue in your ear: “How does that word feel in your mouth? Do you want to spit it out?” It recalls his memorable question in ‘Wanderlust’ off the underappreciated Present Tense album: “In your mother tongue, what’s the verb to suck?” Earthly needs can’t be undone or deleted, according to the song’s chorus. It’s a sentiment echoed in the intimate bedroom scene of the James Blake-esque, shuddering electro-soul of ‘Human Knot.’

On his frequently divine debut album, Hayden Thorpe may well be a new man, untethered from his band, adrift in space and time, yet safe in the hermetic seal of an intricately designed vessel, but the desire for human connection will seemingly always bring him out of his shell and back down to solid ground.