The Plague started with a pair of chords. They've haunted Andrew Lipke for eight years, but they haven't paralyzed him. In that time, he got married, released three rock albums, built a studio and became a father. And through it all, he kept returning to the piano to play those two chords.
They've found a home in "Reunion," one of the end-of-days meditations on The Plague, his gorgeous new album with the Azrael Quartet. When Judgment Day comes, it turns out people aren't as prepared as they thought they'd be. In a suite of "apocalyptic vignettes," Lipke gives voice to the doomed and the angels alike. "Why'd it have to be now, why'd it have to be here?" a baffled man asks one of the messengers. Strings flutter as the insistent piano figure clears the way for her patient — if unsettling — reply.
"I've always liked the kind of crisscrossing of total fantasy stuff and then the people who take it real serious," says Lipke, the son of a Methodist minister. "I think it's just so fascinating. That's why I always liked Revelations."
If all had gone according to plan, The Plague would have been out in March. But while the strings were done in December and the two songs recorded with Lipke's band The Prospects were in the can, it took more time and a couple of unorthodox recording sessions to get the piano just right.
In the meantime, two notable things happened in May: The world didn't end, and Lipke and his wife, Myriah, welcomed their daughter, Arabelle. Holding the alert infant at their home in Kensington, the proud dad is clearly besotted. How does such a happy man promote such a bleak album?
"Nothing really matters that much anymore," Lipke says. He doesn't mean that in a nihilistic way; it's just that he knows what counts in life. "Everything else is kind of fun, so I just have fun with it."
While he's wrestled with hope and despair in his work, it's easy to see which takes precedence in person. He's an optimist who sets seemingly impossible goals, like building a home studio in three months or building a bridge between his pop career and his classical ambitions. "I don't want to get cocky, but I just feel like you aim as high as you possibly can, and if you fall short, you're still pretty high up there."
Though only two of The Plague's numbers feature The Prospects, there's a forward motion to the pieces that won't come as a surprise to those who are familiar with Lipke's work. "Up to Here" is epic, almost Zeppelin-esque, ramping up the dramatic tension with tightly controlled drums and Lipke's powerful wail; the string quartet drives his voice ever heavenward on the seven-minute "Hosanna."
While growing up in the church was pivotal to Lipke's development, fatherhood has only furthered his belief that any afterlife would be superfluous. "There can't be anything bigger than this because this is way bigger than anybody could ever fathom," he says. "Even seeing a baby breast-feed and think about that whole process ... there's enough wonder in right now, right here."
But don't expect domestic bliss to get in the way of his dark muse.
"The music I like is like 'Grrrr.' I like minor chords. I like sad music. I like beautiful melodies saying sad things. I like destructive music. I mean, all kinds of music, but it's the dark stuff that excites me," Lipke laughs. "But worldview? Nah. Hasn't changed. The only thing I can say is that everything feels lighter."
Andrew Lipke and the Azrael Quartet play Sat., Sept. 24, 10:30 p.m., $10, Tin Angel, 20 S. Second St., 215-928-0978, tinangel.com.