It had been a while since Montreal had found itself an auteur, a kid-wizard to emerge from a cave with arms full of golden records. So far this decade it has been a city enamoured with large bands, loose collectives, mixtures of pop-song, jam and racket. And so perhaps there was some hesitation when Graham Van Pelt opened his voice for the first time, hiding behind the samplers and keyboards that form his “miracle fortress”. But his debut album under the Miracle Fortress moniker, Five Roses, leaves no room for skepticism. Doesn’t matter that it was recorded by Van Pelt on his lonesome: there’s sound enough here to fill a cathedral or a cornfield; twelve pop songs that whirr and chug and fire little pastel fireworks.
In 2004 Van Pelt arrived in Montreal from Stratford, Ontario – a town known exclusively for its Shakespeare festival. He was making music under the name Hidden in Buildings, attracting just scant attention. Things began to change as he teamed up with poster-art wunderkind Jack Dylan, the artist-come-lately whose work was adorning every telephone pole in the Plateau. They created a living/working/recording/performance space called The Electric Tractor, and after that was closed moved camp to Friendship Cove – a loft in the city’s sleepy and uncool Griffintown. Soon they were rubbing noses with everyone from AIDS Wolf to The Unicorns, and Van Pelt’s new project – Think About Life – was filling the city’s dancefloors. It was a messy, volatile dance-pop, piling fast beats onto dying synth-lines.
But one band wasn’t enough for Graham Van Pelt and inspired by the likes of Harry Nilsson and John Cale he started work on the stuff of Miracle Fortress. These songs are not tough, are not fierce: they’re the blushing, burbling sounds of early love, full of handsewn hooks and heartfelt joy. While at first Van Pelt would perform them solo, since Five Roses’ release on Secret City in May (and a buzz-heavy SXSW performance) he’s recruited a band and is playing dates here-and-there all-over. Matters are only going to approve: Five Roses has now been nominated for Canada’s Polaris Prize, alongside the likes of Arcade Fire and Feist.
Meanwhile Graham Van Pelt continues to compose new material for Think About Life, and has been playing little shows around Montreal, once again solo-style, hiding under the name “Fort Miracle”. And the rest of us wear out the grooves on Five Roses, hoping for the love-affair that would justify a sound so pretty. ♦
Miracle Fortress + guests Hot Springs (album launch) Fri, September 28 Cover: $12
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about new music in cities.