After the end of Wild Beasts in 2018, Tom Flemming found himself in a period of transition, looking for a new outlet to confront contemporary living. In the idea of a “One True Pairing,” originating from fan fiction, Flemming found the possibility of writing out relationships he sees in the world, those of class, violence, and the ubiquitous dread of what feels like a society in regressive freefall.
His resulting debut, self-titled release is an album that approaches frustrations through familiar sounds. Upon the simplest investigation, One True Pairing is an 80s revivalist record — elements of Peter Gabriel, Depeche Mode, Heaven 17 and even some Dire Straits are incorporated into some of the stylistic cues established for Flemming while writing for Wild Beasts.
The title track chugs along with distorted guitars and dark synthesizers, remaining interesting despite the lack of serious change throughout the track. “Weapons” opens sparsely, guitars lightly strumming and the drums mixed low. Once in the choruses, a sea of crunchy synthesizers overwhelms. The vocals on much of the album sound as though they are drowning, fighting to pierce through to the air from beneath the water. While this can initially be somewhat of a turn-off, the vocals seem to add to the sense of enclosing despair.
“Dawn At The Factory”, the album’s longest track, grows upon the base layer of fluctuating synths and adds a steady strum, beats, backup vocals and even a shredding guitar solo that again nods to a past era. While the song never quite leaves third gear, the oppressive nature of doing terrible work, day in and day out, just to survive is successfully communicated. The song that follows, “Blank Walls”, continues with the formulaic 80s guitars and shimmery synths, but an additional emphasis on the bass and energetic pace gives the song some additional gravity that makes it worth returning to.
“Reaper of Souls” is a head-bopping and infectious dark-wave gem that 80s movies dream of putting in their montage sequences. “Elite Companion” is a brooding track that welcomes some chorus vocals to amplify Flemming’s voice, but lingers too long in the same mood to breed real excitement. “Alive In The Resplendent Flames” and “King Of The Rats” give back a little more room for organic instrumentation to play a role and both tracks, while relatively slow-moving, build nicely and are easy to want to remain within for a while.
In its final track, “Only God Can Judge Me”, One True Pairing fades away more than it burns out, but Flemming’s final sentiment of “I wanna go home” does seem to sum up the album’s themes and feelings fairly concisely — as Flemming, and as all of us, feel the water levels rising from our toes to our ankles to just over the knees – he is trying to find a way in which the comfort of a home is still possible, hoping that it is.
A gamble is taken when an artist chooses to dwell in such recognisable sonic landscapes. How can they produce something that won’t be lost in the fray of myriad similar-sounding projects? One True Pairing sometimes has trouble staying upright during this balancing act, with some tracks that end up bleeding into a mix of homogeneous lost 80s tracks and others that manage to be inviting enough to rise above pastiche.