You can feel the work and the love that went into every sequence, melody, and song on Graham Van Pelt’s Time Travel.
Artists use pseudonyms for a variety of reasons. Stephen King used Richard Bachman to determine if his commercial success stemmed from his writing or his name. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Al Diaz created SAMO as both a graffiti tag and a front for their ideas and social critique. The actor Albert Brooks was born, I shit you not, Albert Einstein. Scott Thompson used Carrot Top as a surefire way to inject a sense of legitimacy into the profession of prop comedy.
Musicians use pseudonyms all time, as everybody knows. They can create a veil of intrigue and mystery behind which a group or a solo artist can explore aesthetic, personality, and the fluidity of identity. The added layer of removal can also enhance our experience of the art, as the artist and their work become one entity to unpack together. But what happens when this removal detracts, or distracts, from the artist’s emotional efficacy? What happens when they want to face you as they are?
Graham Van Pelt is no stranger to pseudonyms. Over the years, he’s made music as Inside Touch, Think About Life, and Miracle Fortress. With Time Travel, his newest release on Montreal-based Arbutus Records, Van Pelt comes out from behind the aliases and presents himself free of trappings and conceits. It’s right there on the album cover: Van Pelt, standing in profile, starkly lit before a blurred-out backdrop of blue water. It’s a beautiful image — simple, unassuming and representative of the music that follows.
“I’d like to be as un-mysterious as I possibly can,” Van Pelt says. Time Travel is his first release in four years. In that time, he moved from Montreal to Toronto, uprooting his life and his career. The flurry of change that followed is all-too-familiar for those who’ve done the same: streets change, people change, routines change, you change. Time Travel sounds like a response to all this destabilization. It’s Van Pelt’s attempt to reclaim a sense of self by being as open as possible — about his emotions, his abilities, and his tastes. He digs deep, tastefully exploring house, synthwave, and 80s/90s dance music over 45 minutes of categorical bliss. If Van Pelt’s goal with this project was emotional honesty and openness, then the vocals are the biggest evidence of that motivation. His melodies are beautifully simple and well plotted, but what strikes you most is how exposed they are over the music. On tracks like opener “New Friends” and the incredible “One Thing”, Van Pelt tackles issues like love, friendship, and transition with very little in the way of effects or alterations; he lays himself bare over his sparse soundscapes.
Time Travel’s brand of dance music is the type that can disarm you. It’s earnest and melancholic in a way that pulls you inward, inciting self-reflection. There are languid grooves and flourishes that make you long for places, times, and sounds — some real, some constructed — that you’ve forgotten or stored away. At the same time, Van Pelt uses the Roland SH-101 synth, the weapon-of-choice for so many early IDM artists, to craft timeless, intoxicating beats capable of moving your body through space and through time. Songs like “Release Yourself”, “Out Of This World (Minimal Dub)”, and “Vanishing Point” are all heartening examples of how to draw on influences from the past as a way to enliven the present, rather than using them some cynical cry for the glory days. Despite all the odes to EDM’s past, and parts that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Much Dance compilation from the mid-90s, Van Pelt sounds right at home alongside innovative contemporaries like Disclosure, CFCF, Kelly Lee Owens, Yaeji, and Caribou.
Time Travel works so well because of Graham Van Pelt’s unwavering commitment to its central theme: honesty. You can feel the work and the love that went into every sequence, every melody, every song. There is implicit value in this music for Van Pelt, both in the genres that inspired the album and the resulting eight songs. I think this is the major reason why he simply went with his own name for this record. With material this important, that works so hard to present an honest portrait, what reason is there to hide behind some other name?