Tom Fleming is no stranger to melancholy. Serving as one half of the vocal power of beloved, and now defunct, Wild Beasts alongside Hayden Thorpe, Fleming often bore the weight of despair for the project. While Thorpe’s voice floated with a certain lightness, Fleming’s vocals could often feel more akin to a moan. His performance over the eerie, gently tragic ‘New Life’, among others, could be shattering without him ever stepping beyond a soft misery.

With the demise of Wild Beasts, both men have arrived with solo debuts for 2019. Thorpe’s project, under his own known, delivered first, with the decidedly flashier Diviner. It was a strong showcase for Thorpe’s melodic voice, if a bit safe.

Fleming seems a bit more hesitant to trumpet out under his own banner, his solo debut album at once somewhat cloaking itself under the name of One True Pairing and going bolder than his longtime counterpart.

One True Pairing is, above all, a very sour listen. If Fleming could feel dejected during his time with Wild Beasts, he’s outright disgusted here. Disgusted with the world, its occupants, and perhaps above all, himself. Filled to the brim with barebone, even aggressive synth work and drum machines, laid over stark guitars, it doesn't feel entirely unlike the sonic world recently created on Thom Yorke’s ANIMA, and the mood is dour bordering on angry.

The entire affair opens, after all, with the words, “You don’t get to tell me when it’s over.” Rather than some missive towards his audience regarding his career moving forward, it feels more like a barb slung by a possessive lover, casting Fleming in a role he settles into willfully across much of his debut: something of a villain.

It’s certainly a bold move for a man embarking on a new chapter, and it pays off mightily. Contrasting One True Pairing’s sleek sound, Fleming is consistently willing to dampen the mood with world weary, starkly honest observations as to our current cultural reality. Whether it’s toxic masculinity, paranoia, or an all too real fear of global collapse, the record lays all things bare.

Across the album’s 45 minutes, the narrator is shown collections of knives (on the excellently insistent ‘Weapons’, a highlight), sees others permanently lamed, and ultimately emerges from it all insisting, “Only God can judge me,” with far more desperation than defiance. While this could have easily felt cliched and weak as a closing statement in the wrong hands, Fleming weaponizes the words, seeping pain and a sense of being hopelessly lost into them. Against all the pain and fatigue that came before them, they’re more than a loaded statement. It’s clear the character created here will never escape his world of delusion and torment, avoiding consequence, but his horror is our respite. One True Pairing is all-consuming in its grief and grime that we somehow emerge cleaner.