Spectrum and Malmstrom: two reincarnated visionaries on a time-bending quest to discover the long lost secret of Atlantis. That is to say, two incredibly versatile musicians and analogue fanatics who through a series of fated encounters, portentous delays and inspired partnerships have put together Pepe Deluxe’s fourth studio album, a mind-bending conceptual epic based on a long-forgotten and utterly cult novel written by a precocious boy who claimed he wrote the best part of it whilst channelling the spirit of Phebas the Thibetan.
I mean, where do you go from there? Make no bones about it, this simply has to be one of the most pored-over, painstaking albums made in many years. In short, it took the two intrepid Danes the better part of 6 years from conceit to release to negotiate the repair of the world’s largest instrument, cart around their custom-made ex-Soviet recording gear and wrangle their way through the many copyright infringement loopholes.
Much, much more important however is the way it all comes together in an energetic, scintillating collection of tracks written and recorded through a prism of ’60s sunshine power-pop and ’70s psychedelia, although the influences don’t stop there. There are also nods to prog rock guitar solos, country & western tropes and even gaelic folk.
Queen Of The Wave is an absolute smorgasbord of aural delights, all of which are impeccably produced (often sampled from original recordings made by the band) and meticulously assembled, so that from one moment to the next you’re not quite sure what to expect, and sometimes the sheer audacity, verve and fitfully imaginative arrangements border on – but crucially never become – the ridiculous.
It’s genuinely hard to chart the topography of an album so consistently engaging. Granted the overall, playful camp of the underlying concept might just be enough to deter the more closed-minded sonic adventurers but for everyone else Pepe Deluxe repackage an awful lot of ephemera into a strikingly fresh-feeling album that encompasses raucous walls of noise, tender ballads and songs like ‘The Storm’, that could easily soundtrack a b-movie schlock horror movie.
Somehow, Pepe Deluxe’s “ideas tennis” consistently smashes out aces, and if there’s been an album like this since the experimental heyday of bands like Soft Machine, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart or The B-52s I’m certainly yet to hear it. Either way it stands toe to toe with them, so if those names don’t mean anything to you it offers an ideal contemporary touchstone; and if they do, then what a wonderful retro-futurist, trans-reality, sorcerous throwback it provides. Emphatically recommended.
Listen to Queen of the Wave