Kavus Torabi - Hip To The Jag Review

Knifeworld leader tilts at the unknown on psychedelic solo debut

Kavus Torabi
(Image: © Kavus Torabi)

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Over the past two decades, Kavus Torabi has done his utmost to inject a skewed sense of wonder into our lives via numerous bands and side projects. Rising to prominence as a member of Cardiacs, he’s developed a unique perspective on contemporary music, and shared his talents out most recently between the righteous psychedelia of Gong, the cosmic electronica of The Utopia Strong, and the ecstatic prog of his own band Knifeworld

And now, he’s found time to record a solo album as well.In fact, it seems that some of the songs here were originally intended for the next Knifeworld album, but given the logistical challenges of bringing together an eight-member band, Torabi elected instead to record the material on his own – a decision that was sealed by his acquisition of an Indian harmonium, which strongly influenced the direction his songwriting was going in. Like the sitar, it’s an instrument that produces a shimmering drone, an aural heat haze that hints at hidden depths. It’s proved to be the perfect foil for Torabi’s imagination: Hip To The Jag is a meditation on – and sometimes confrontation with – unseen worlds and the realm beyond the senses. 

If that sounds like a throwback to the late 60s, then opener Chart The Way is happy to oblige, conjuring a Ladbroke Grove vibe of Hawkwind jamming with Quintessence. And Torabi’s invocatory vocals and undulating melodies seem to emanate from the same era, like a blissed-out Syd Barrett.

But it soon becomes clear that Torabi wants to take us somewhere more mysterious. Silent The Rotor and A Body Of Work map out spacier territory, occasionally punctuated by an edgy guitar refrain or snatch of synth. You Broke My Fall is gentler, but pivots on the lyric, ‘The friends I once made music with are now ghosts that clank their chains,’ evoking memories as apparitions we haunt ourselves with.

Cemetery Of Light has the album’s most upbeat chord sequence, but from this point on, things get weirder. The percussive crashes and strident harmonium of Radio To Their World is oddly grandiose, while My Cold Rebirth finds Torbai on the threshold of revelation, not just solo but alone, the instrumentation peeking timidly around the door. Finally, the extended drone of Slow Movements achieves celestial oneness: Torabi is reclining on the cloud of unknowing, he’s a man transformed. Like Gong’s most recent album, last year’s The Universe Also Collapses, Hip To The Jag reconfigures psychedelia for the modern age, but on a more personal level, for Torabi making music induces an altered state of being. It’s a bold but rather fascinating trip.

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Joe Banks

Joe is a regular contributor to Prog. He also writes for Electronic Sound, The Quietus, and Shindig!, specialising in leftfield psych/prog/rock, retro futurism, and the underground sounds of the 1970s. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, MOJO, and Rock & Folk. Joe is the author of the acclaimed Hawkwind biographyDays Of The Underground (2020). He’s on Twitter and Facebook, and his website is https://www.daysoftheunderground.com/