The problem with doing a weekly CD review is that an excellent album will sometimes cross your path, only to realize that you can’t get to it for weeks. Then they explode (sort of), play a show that gets covered by everyone and their Grandma (a.k.a. The Star), and you end up twiddling your thumbs, not sure if one more review is really going to say anything different from all the other ones. It might not, but Five Roses (Secret City) by Miracle Fortress is too good and we can’t let it pass by.
In case you need a quick recap, here’s the basic story: solo project of Graham Van Pelt (of Montreal’s Think About Life), made all by himself in his house, textured dream pop, comparisons to Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Now you’re up to speed. To change things up, we’re going to break down Five Roses track by track. This is to try avoid simply repeating what others have already said, and because it should provide a small amount of amusement to us. Or be really annoying. Let’s find out!
1. “Whirrs” — This instrumental opener really sets the tone for the album. Lots of percussion, a groovy baseline and fuzz boiling beneath the surface.
2. “Have You Seen In Your Dreams” — If you’re looking for really strong, varied guitar tones, this song has it all. There’s a wonderful blending of vocals and keyboards, creating a confusion about what we’re listening to. The percussion is nicely divided up in the song to frame the different sections.
3. “Next Train” — Slowing down with a well-placed ballad. There’s such a perfect blending of melody, arrangement and lyrics when Van Pelt sings, “I’ve been had by the girls of Wisconsin/Telling their boyfriends about me,” then following that with finger snaps and a dreamy, floating guitar line. Beautiful.
4. “Maybe Lately” — Another example of a bouncing bass line providing the support for the melody while guitars and various instruments buzz and hum in the background. This sounds like it should be used in a movie, during the montage where the characters fall in love. Especially the falsetto. Gotta love the falsetto.
5. “Beach Baby” — There’s a fine line between having a nicely textured song and being indulgent. The ending has too much happening that it almost becomes a cacophony of sound. We still like it anyway.
6. “Hold Your Secrets To Your Heart” — The chime sounds between verses are absolutely brilliant. If you’re looking for the multi-tracked and layered vocals, this song has enough for a whole album. We love that the song is basically one vocal line repeated endlessly with variations. When you’ve got a good thing, stick to it.
7. “Little Trees” — One of the rare examples of an acoustic guitar, but it is overshadowed by the constant drone of keyboards and the electric guitar that comes in half way through the song.
8. “Poetaster” — Oh, wait, there’s more acoustic guitar. “Poetaster” shows what “Little Trees” does wrong. The buzzing background becomes a compliment to the vocals and doesn’t overshadow them. Instead of trying to hide in the mix, Van Pelt steps to the fore and carries the song with his voice.
9. “Five Roses” — The second instrumental is beautifully executed. Starting with a few lilting notes, it slowly adds instruments and sections, allowing the listener to fully appreciate how the song is constructed. There is a tiny crescendo at the end, just enough to keep the song lively.
10. “Blasphemy” — Oh, look, another gorgeous song! Or is this one really two or three songs packed in one? It’s hard to tell sometimes. Regardless, the opening is a lovely layering of guitars that gets depth with some heavy, dramatic chords. Then the second half kicks in with a steady drum beat and a frolicking flute, followed by some electronic noises and then more flute. Weird but excellent.
11. “Fortune” — OK, not a big fan of this one. Such is the problem with the repeating melodies: if it doesn’t work, the whole song is bust.
12. “This Thing About You” — These bass lines are consistently perfect. As the album ends with a final burst of pop and pomp, we keep wanting more and more bass. There’s still plenty of guitar, but they compliment the songs and don’t really form much of the melody. And we’re surprisingly fine with that.