Arts & Culture

PepTides sing about big brains and strange wealth in Vonnegut-inspired album, Galápagos

“The financial crisis … was simply the latest in a series of murderous twentieth century catastrophes which had originated entirely in human brains.”Kurt Vonnegut

It was ripe for the picking.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos — the 1985 madcap apocalypse novel riffing on Darwinism, fame, famine, and lucre — touches on themes that The PepTides have explored faithfully over four albums.

The Ottawa nine-piece smashes together soul, funk, and pop with great theatricality, while harmonizing about humanity’s curious flaws and the vagaries of love. That contrast: dystopian themes set to happy tunes, combined with their electric live show, has made them one of this city’s best-loved live acts.

They’ll hit the stage again for two shows on October 27 at the NAC. It’s the special Ottawa pre-release of their new CD Galápagos, Vol. 1, which will be widely released in early 2019.

Photo by Julian Luckham

The 10 tunes, helmed by producer Jason Jaknunas, will resonate with Vonnegut fans. Those who have not read the book, or haven’t picked it up since their undergrad days, will be drawn into the storyline with songs such as “Invaders,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “O Jackie O,” and “Fisherfolk.”

At its core, the novel Galápagos questions the evolution and usefulness of the human brain. The story takes places on Galápagos, a chain of islands off the coast of Ecuador. It’s best known as the research grounds for historian and geologist Charles Darwin — research that contributed to his theories of natural selection.

The PepTides touch lightly on other details of the book, such as the fact that evolution has turned humans into creatures with smaller brains, flippers, and beaks.

Musically, the ‘80s synth lines coincide nicely with the era of the book’s release. And lyrics such as “Are we in or out of our minds?” — so central to Vonnegut’s narrative — seem like timeless questions.

“I came back to Galápagos for inspiration,” says PepTides founder, lyricist, and singer Claude Marquis. “It’s the connection between humanity’s desire to be better, but our emotional, chemical brain apparatus doesn’t match with a lot of our aspirations.

“I love books that have a little irreverence,” he says. “I’m always fascinated by things that poke at humanity.”

It’s not the first literary foray for the band. In 2013, The PepTides released Revenge of the Vinyl Café. The songs were set to short stories by CBC radio host Stuart McLean. Marquis is also a fan of Not Wanted on the Voyage by Timothy Findley, which delves into matters of hope and desperation—matter, perhaps, for a future PepTides work.

For now, there is plenty of material to explore with Galápagos, the new CD, which is subtitled Vol. 1, because an album full of tunes still remain (the Volume 2). As with all of their albums, Galápagos, Vol. 1, is thoroughly art directed. There’s a beachy, glossy, wet, hot and hazy, palm-frond aesthetic to the album that gives it an apt far-away feel.

 

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