Graham Van Pelt has been making waves across the pond in Montreal, Quebec for half a decade now, first in the much loved dance pop band Think About Life, and currently in his solo project, Miracle Fortress. His 2007 debut album Five Roses earned him a Polaris Prize nomination (the Canadian equivalent of the Mercury Prize), and found him channelling the pop sensibility of Brian Wilson. Four years on, and Van Pelt has returned with Was I The Wave?, earning him a second nod from the Polaris judges, and showcasing a refined ear for production and his love for 80’s inspired electro pop.
Van Pelt wears all hats on his new album (composer, arranger, producer, and engineer), and proves quite adept at soaring melodies — the perfect hook and infectious chorus seem to come naturally to him — matched with an assured display of vocals. Unlike his debut, which relied mainly on indie-rock guitars, Was I the Wave? is essentially an electronic offering, using big synths as the through line, with guitars working as the secondary rhythm.
“Tracers” is an excellent example of this compositional shift, starting with a guitar lick and simple drum machine loop for the first thirty seconds, until Van Pelt drops an 808 synth line that sounds almost like late 90’s Detroit techno, before he swings it back with his voice. “Tracers” sets the mood and groove quite nicely for following track “Raw Spectacle”, which sounds a lot like Cut Copy circa In Ghost Colours, with its stabbing synth, processed vocals, and brilliant build up to a pulsing and exciting chorus. “Everything Works” follows, and seems to be where the album starts to become more buoyant and warm, using an enjoyable bass hook to get your head bobbing, with vocals so contagious you’ll be humming along before you even know the words.
The mid-point of the album features two brief ambient pieces that offer a nice respite before Van Pelt amps it back up with album highlight “Miscalculations”, a guitar based track that is reminiscent of Toto, Men at Work, and Depeche Mode. Van Pelt’s melodies throughout are undeniable — they’re catchy but subtle, and his formulaic switch up from 60’s beach pop to 80’s new wave is refreshing, it shows he’s an artist still growing and one who gets stronger with each release. There’s an intimate feel to “Was I the Wave?” that reveals itself slowly, and with great production and impossibly catchy hooks, once revealed, only makes the album all that much enjoyable.
Miracle Fortress’s Was I The Wave? is the perfect album for the last days of summer and the coming autumn. Check it.