Released: 17th March 2023
In a just and fair world, The Van Pelt would be as popular as Modest Mouse, Death Cab For Cutie, Karate or any other act that inhibited the late 90s not-quite-indie-not-quite-emo sound. But, instead, by calling it quits before emo hit the mainstream, they’ve remained a somewhat hidden gem amongst the detritus.
But over the last few years, just as their contemporaries in American Football experienced, they’ve undergone something of a renaissance, with subsequent generations appreciating the brilliance of ‘Stealing From Our Favourite Thieves’ and, in particular, ‘Sultans of Sentiment’.
Despite being released some 25 years after their initial split ‘Artisans & Merchants’ is a perfect reinterpretation of the band for today’s audience, containing just as much lyrical obtuseness and weirdness as ever, but not at the expense of some kick-ass indie-rock.
‘Image of Health’ is the most prominent example of this past and present. It’s unmistakably the Van Pelt, mid-paced, percussive, and delicately light, with Chris Leo’s breathy spoken word lyrics flying by at a rate of knots. But it’s not the only track to find itself occupying this space. The title track and closing duo ‘Did We Hear The Same Song’ and ‘Love Is Brutal’ are every bit as on-the-nose as you’d expect from the smart and literary quartet as they wrestle with what a legacy act should mean in 2023.
While these songs might feel ‘safe’, not every cut on ‘Artisans & Merchants’ falls into this category. Lead single ‘Punk House’ is one example, while ‘Grid’ is a freewheeling, anxiety-inducing tale of city streets, lost wallets and keys, closed convenience stores and sketchy characters. It’s as utterly beguiling and brilliant as it is bonkers. ‘Cold Coconuts’, meanwhile, is so sleek it needs a lounge suit. The Van Pelt have never sounded so elegant, even if it never fully convinces – although it too dials up the weirdness.
Ultimately, ‘Artisans & Merchants’ is a fine return from one of the more interesting acts from a bygone era. But, by never sounding like their contemporaries, their previous output hasn’t remained frozen in time. As a result, the Van Pelt remain as fresh and relevant today as they ever did. Resurrecting long-gone acts is never easy, but this should serve as the blueprint for all acts planning on doing the same.