Let me tell you – this album is bizarre. REALLY bizarre. it’s a pop-opera based on a crazy novel about Atlantis from the late 1800s, with a style that mixes up hundreds of musical sub-genres in each song. Each individual element seems too far-fetched to enjoy, but when combined something wonderful and twisted is created. Speaking of the combined pieces, Pepe Deluxé describe themselves as “an inter-continental orchestra,” but the two “conductors” of this orchestra are James Spectrum and Paul Malmström. The “orchestra” is comprised of dozens of talented musicians, along with various producers and musical equipment designers. This fleet of professionals’ styles are as different as the genres that are featured side-by-side in each and every Pepe Deluxé song.
The recording process of Queen of the Wave had a big impact on the end product. Spectrum and Malmström traveled around and went to each featured artist’s home base, and set up to record the artists in their most natural state. They also pursued as many strange and esoteric sounds as possible, to add to the mythical sound of the pop-opera. One notably strange track is “In The Cave,” an instrumental composed for and recorded on the Great Stalacpipe Organ, a massive organ residing in the Luray Caverns of Virginia. The echoes of the hammered stalactites are haunting and beautiful, and their timbre is impossible to reproduce on any other noisemaker. In addition to using the world’s largest instrument, Pepe Deluxé also utilized old Soviet amps, singing Tesla coils, strange machines built according to blueprints created by Edison, and a large selection of lo-fi recording equipment. I can’t identify half of what is being played on any given track, but it all blends and syncs into a wall of otherworldly sound.
Each song on the album is unique, making it hard to describe an overall vibe. The third track on the album, “Go Supersonic,” is an excellent example of how much is jammed into each and every song. It starts out as somewhat straightforward surf music, with some excellent organ bleets and surf guitar riffs going on. The singer has an enchanting voice, and her style swings between sweet and mellow during each verse, to awesomely intense during the chorus’s repetition of “Supersonic!”, to a freaky whisper during the strange middle of the song. After a bit of the standard surf, things slowly get more and more unusual. First, a harpsichord makes an appearance – a tell-tale sign of impending oddities in music. Indeed, fairly soon there’s a transition into a call-and-answer segment between a male choir and the whispering voice of the singer, with booming orchestral drums giving everything a feeling of urgency. The song slowly transitions back to its original state, but not after a spacey bridge between the standard surf stuff and the intense middle segment. The musical scope of “Go Supersonic” is just a slice of what the entire album has to offer – rapidly transitioning styles and sounds that disorient the listener each time they think they’ve gathered their senses.
Plot-wise, Queen of the Wave is pretty straightforward. It’s the story of the people of Atlantis, and the eventual sinking of their city. As I mentioned earlier, it’s based on a very old book ,”A Dweller on Two Planets,” along with its sequel, “Earth Dwellers Return.” The album references various parts of the surreal adventure, including the technologies of the lost civilization and the events that led to its downfall. However, the most essential parts are A) Atlantis is pretty awesome, B) a massive wave appeared and most of the city was lost, and C) they forgot to evacuate the unicorns (my personal favorite set of lyrics).
My overall impression? Well, when I listen to it, I feel like I’m listening to the soundtrack of an imaginary movie – one that, if created, would require intense analysis and discussion, because on the surface it’s too overwhelming to comprehend. Too vague? Let me put it this way – I have a feeling that this is what The Flaming Lips listen to when they want to feel particularly spacey and weird. This album is exciting, exhilarating, overwhelming, and epic, to give a few choice adjectives. Queen of the Wave has a sense of whimsy to it, despite the massive amounts of orchestration its creation must have required. Trust me, this is worth a listen.