Montreal-based musician and producer Graham Van Pelt’s impressive multi-instrumental talents first gained notice when his debut album, the lush, Brian Wilson-haunted Five Roses, was nominated for Canada’s esteemed Polaris Award in 2007. In the intervening years, Pelt appears to have been busily absorbing the prevailing indie-pop trends, because Was I The Wave? moves on from the angelic Beach Boys-tinged vocal harmonics into sharper-edged, electronic textures and rhythms. In fact, much of Was I The Wave? is made up of short, quasi-ambient instrumental interludes, each reprogramming the album’s overarching mood before launching into the next clutch of proper songs.
In lesser hands, this could be a suspicious move, a way of pumping up an EP’s worth of tracks into something resembling a full length — or, worse still, of jumping on the indie-ambient-lush out bandwagon. But Van Pelt’s knack for imbuing the machines with effortless charm stands him in good stead, giving the longer vocal pieces a bit of breathing space and enabling the album’s various mood transitions to progress elegantly from nervy, buzzy uncertainty (“Tracers”) to widescreen synth bombast (“Spectre”) to more refined, optimistic digi-pop (“Miscalculations”).
Like other indie groups who’ve embraced the electronics, there are moments when the effect resembles stadium-scale commercial trance instead of plaintive Eno-style atmospherics (most notably on the pompous arpeggios of “Raw Spectacle”). But beneath the affectations and the occasionally anxious over-styling, there’s frequent evidence of a great talent at work here, with Van Pelt’s silky vocal tones regularly commingling with celestial synths in ecstatic equilibrium. Miracle Fortress may no longer be the “wave” referenced in the album’s title, but you sense that matters little to its creator at this point. He’s happy to just ride on the water and see where he ends up.