Time Travel

Graham Van Pelt

Arbutus Records, 2018

http://www.grahamvanpelt.com

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/23/2018

Like most others these days, Toronto-based Graham Van Pelt has been making music inspired by the past. His previous incarnation Miracle Fortress was influenced by ‘80s flavored dreampop. His latest endeavor – not hidden behind the veil of any moniker this time – is also retro-oriented. Time Travel also sounds very ‘80s but has a rather peculiar electronic sound.

This album, his debut as Van Pelt, is based on simple tracks, with sparse synth-based arrangements, consisting of layers that build up very gradually. It has a feel of experimental cuts from synthpop albums, especially with Van Pelt’s brisk, soulful vocals, which are reminiscent of the vocalists of that era like Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore and Erasure’s Andy Bell.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The music has a surrealistic quality with the repetitiveness of the synthesizers. However, at no point does the album come across as boring, as Van Pelt’s melodious vocals are always front and center, filling any song with life. For instance, the most musically barren number “Mountainside,” which consists of music that’s quite unremarkable in the form of repeating synth notes and no rhythm, is made remarkable solely because of Van Pelt’s hauntingly beautiful vocals.

The songwriting and production here are solid, and despite the cold façade of minimalism, are warm, and most importantly, heartfelt. As Van Pelt reminisces about love on “One Thing,” there is some serious emotion that is conveyed very effectively amid the lean musical composition. “New Friends” is even more stirring, despite the measured vocals and music. Van Pelt does not use the bare-bones synth compositions as an excuse to create a monolithic robotic record. The all-over soulfulness of Time Travel is its major strength and cannot be understated.

Time Travel might be mistaken as an album that’s actually made in the ‘80s, from the vintage synth music, the “New Wave” vocals, to just its overall feel. But there is no denying that it sounds very avant-garde, which is a key distinction, because such records never get old, no matter the era. If this disc were to have come out in the ‘80s, it would have definitely been influential, or at least have had a cult appeal. As a present-day work, it is still pretty pathbreaking, for electronic albums of this kind and quality are rare.

Rating: A-

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© 2018 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Arbutus Records, and is used for informational purposes only.