Graham Van Pelt’s second album as Miracle Fortress is all
glamour and chill, leaving behind the indie pop sounds that defined 2007’s
Polaris-nominated Five Roses to
explore sleek, futuristic landscapes. Was
I the Wave? has a clean, underwater vibe for most of its first half, its
wavering synth textures and burbling keyboards braced by dance rhythms. Yet
lovely as these early album efforts can be, they lack sticking power. You have
the sense of walking through beautiful, sunlit, empty rooms.
The album begins in an atmospheric reverie. “Awe”, one of
four brief instrumental interludes, swathes a three-note motif in electronic washes,
finding a still center in the midst of overtones. Eventually, more propulsive
sounds move through its watery textures, a bass-like synthesizer, a minimal bit
of guitar, swimming up through the depths. Yet the overall effect is one of
motionless contemplation. Later, similar tracks like “Wave,” “Before” and
“Until” serve as pauses in the dance-centric forward movement of cuts like
“Tracers” and “Raw Spectacle.”
In his pop songs, Van Pelt attempts a 1980s blend of
precision, tunefulness, drama and falsetto soul’d romantic longing a la the Pet
Shop Boys or Tears for Fears. Early on, a chilly remove prevents him from
really connecting, but in the second, more vulnerable half of the album, the
approach begins to work really well. “Spectre” laces its bubbly, dance-floor
rhythms with wordless melodic flourishes and a pop chorus you can hang onto. “Everything
Works” introduces even more coherent hookiness into the mix.
Still it is “Miscalculations” that really pulls the pieces
together – the icy beat, the sleek
arrangements and, finally, a sense of Van Pelt himself and the world he lives
in. No one, it seems, is lonelier than the one-person phenomenon riding an
unexpected wave of popularity. “They put you in the New York Times, but your
roommates tore it up,” Van Pelt observes. “It’s no reflection on you that
people just despise and hate your guts.”
The piece culminates in a soaring chorus where all the elements — the
bouncy beat, the intricacies of synthesizer, the tuneful vocal line – push
upwards. Still there’s an interesting shadow of melancholy in the way that Van
Pelt murmurs, “You got everything and more” repeatedly, as if trying to
Yet this is the exception.
For the most part, Was I the Wave?
is that rare phenomenon, a one-person production where it’s hard to get a sense
of the auteur. No question that Van Pelt can create intriguing soundscapes and
hooky melodies, but where is the “I” that made the wave?
DOWNLOAD: “Miscalculations” “Everything Works” JENNIFER KELLY