Wednesday, September 27

Album Review: Chad VanGaalen

Sub Pop; 2006

There are several people I know that stand by Chad VanGaalen as the most criminally underrated voice in indie rock. I am not one of them. Of course, I think that his debut album, last year’s “Infiniheart” should have sold more than a measly 1,000 copies, but in general I never saw what was so special about him. And while “Skelliconnection” doesn’t give me any real answers, it does clarify a few things.

The lanky Canadian’s sophomore album shows a nearly exponential growth in songwriting maturity. His musicianship sounds much more confident, as if he’s learning to control his mind’s prolific output. And while this, at times, seems to subdue his eclectic tendencies and stranger arrangements, the music’s increased surefootedness works to his advantage. And, when he does break into banjo parts or xylophone solos, he does it with enough bravado to really sell them. He’s also found a better context in which to place his vocals, taking advantage of his high warble to further texture the music instead of rest uncomfortably on top. The chorus of “Mini T.V.s” is a perfect example of this, the chorus betraying his strained voice but bringing the valuable perspective of weakness to “They don’t love you, they don’t love you.”

His lyrics, too, have taken a huge step. My chief problem with “Infiniheart” was its alienating, sci-fi-focused musings. This time around, VanGaalen retains much of his paranoia of technology and fear for collective humanity, but tempers it with more accessible subjects that connect listeners with the music on a much more basic level. Verses like “Broken hearts last for a million years” and “If your words were to run away / I’d circle everything you say / and point the bubble back towards your mouth” bring the kind of balance necessary to let VanGaalen’s ramblings about needles and machines and blood loss develop into a real, veritable theme.

But despite the huge steps he’s taken in the last year, VanGaalen still has a long way to go. The main problem I have with this album is with the transitions. There often seems to be a lack of flow from verses to choruses to bridges, making it seem often as if VanGaalen has sort of forced the pieces of the songs to fit together instead of allowing them to flow together, which often jerks the listener out of focus. Several of the songs work magnificently, of course—opener “Flower Gardens”, “Mini T.V.s”, “Red Hot Drops”, and “Dead Ends” are all outstanding—but the majority of them are too easily seen as part of a learning process that VanGaalen is still very much a part of.

“Skelliconnection” is, then, more an indication of a bright future than anything else. VanGaalen has an enormous amount of potential, and its good to hear him slowly working his way toward it. But, as of now, we have three or four fantastic songs and an album decent enough to keep our fingers crossed for his next release.

Chad VanGaalen - Mini T.V.s
Chad VanGaalen - Dead Ends

- Dominick Duhamel -

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