Releasing a solo record can be a great chance for an artist to give themselves some creative space from their day job. Too often, however, solo projects are the result of conflict, not necessity: we all know that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger like to spar a bit every so often, but if the resulting strife producing solo work is like Richards’ 1992 effort Main Offender, I’d rather the next bout was a death match.
Happily, Graham van Pelt has decided to reverse this worrying trend. By day he’s in Think About Life, who recorded an ok self-titled debut on Montreal’s extremely cool Alien8 label in 2006. That album was characterised by frantic, fuzzy pop songs that buzzed into your head and then exited just as quickly, but one track, the stately minute and a half (slow-motion slam-dunk from the free-throw line) showed that Think About Life could do plaintive just as well as abrasive.
It would be wrong, though, to think of Miracle Fortress as some kind of ambient-pop sideline from Think About Life. Instead, it’s Think About Life that begin to sound like the hobby band, as Miracle Fortress have delivered a big fat slab of summer vibes.
On Five Roses van Pelt joins the dots effortlessly between The Beach Boys, My Bloody Valentine, The Field Mice, and fellow Montrealeans Stars on twelve giddy concoctions that seem to have been beamed in from some parallel, more psychedelic universe where Brian Wilson became President and LSD was given instead of milk at children’s break-times.
And while the spirit of Wilson is all over the album with its weird whirring and strange sounding animal noises, van Pelt manages to avoid merely emulating him. The only time that he comes close, on the startling Maybe Lately, it reminds me more of the similarly post-modern take on Californian musical experimentation that His Name Is Alive managed to nail on their 1996 track Universal Frequencies. These aren’t covers, nor reinventions, but songs that are thematically and structurally close to their musical forebears.
On the tracks Poetaster and the instrumental Whirrs van Pelt discards one studio perfectionist for another, and begins to channel Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine instead. In particular, the chord change at the beginning of Poetaster’s chorus is so wonderfully MBV that it sent delicious shivers down my spine.
Let me be clear about one thing, though: Five Roses isn’t about slavishly recreating the past as much as it is about recognising its greatness and continuing relevance. Sure, most of the tracks here could have emerged at almost any point between the late 60s and now, but when you’re confronted by the sheer bittersweet enthusiasm that van Pelt manages to squeeze into each one, it would be a little unfair to draw up a family tree. If you’re in the UK this summer, go buy it: it’s the nearest you’re going to get to the feeling of speeding down a long highway in a convertible with the top down.