In a recent chat, Knifeworld lynchpin Kavus Torabi admitted that, within the overstuffed suitcase of ideas inside his creative noggin, when it comes to songwriting he’s searching for the perfect pop song. Torabi’s propellant has been a time in pop music when anything was possible – the twang of spiky new wave, the intoxication of psychedelia and the pimply teenage war cry of Iron Maiden.
In the mid-90s, with a brace of odd-pop bands on his CV, he met Cardiacs’ Tim Smith. It changed his life and he eventually joined the band. But in 2008, Smith simultaneously suffered a heart attack and a series of strokes, and the guiding light for British art rock was dimmed.
The Unravelling is Torabi’s love letter to him – an attempt to come to terms with a dreadful situation, and an acknowledgment of lives in disintegration, inspired by close friends and surrounding family. But it’s no easy read. ‘You’ll sleep alone/That halo won’t have far to drop till it becomes a noose,’ curses Melanie Woods on_ I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight_ as, within the album’s gothic intro, we take an ominous stalk through the shadows of a mind.
Conceptually tracking some sort of 50s horror flick, after the pitter-patter of The Orphanage, Chloe Herington’s signature bassoon accents the lumbering shanty Send Him Home Seaworthy, a song that dreams of a sweet captain sailing away while sadly being ‘in a dungeon, all that beauty locked away with he’.
From here we plunge into the eight-minute masterpiece Don’t Land On Me, where Torabi looks his past in the eye (‘The hunter inside that’s like a parasite that never leaves me be’). Celestial swishes meet jazz guitar as mellifluous Canterbury arrangements fend off an apocalyptic gospel punch tracked by probably the best tambourine line this side of Funk Brother Jack Ashford.
Next up is the unsettling, nightmarish The Skulls We Buried Have Regrown Their Eyes. Destroy The World We Love’s delicious exploding-star avant-groove dovetails into the eerie raga of This Empty Room Once Was Alive, and then there’s The Big One: I’m Hiding Behind My Eyes. Soft and acoustically sweet but smeared with red-raw emotion, Torabi and his band yearn to inhabit the universe of the person they hold dear but can’t quite reach. Listen closely: it’s a tear-jerker.
Now 42, Kavus Torabi has truly come of age. There’s no doubt it’s been a rough ride, but what he’s achieved is a glorious tribute to – and the perfect ‘pop’ record for – the guardian angel who gave him wings.